For some areas throughout the Midwest when March 1 is crossed off calendars, it’s time to start accepting the fact that the end of the snowmobiling season could be near – regardless of what some groundhog saw.
But that hasn’t necessarily been the case this season, when on Monday, March 5, a winter storm rolled through and blanketed nearly the entire state of Minnesota with fresh snow before heading off to many parts of Wisconsin and Michigan – and eventually being one of the consecutive storms to hit the East Coast.
Being fond of the northern Minnesota region and trail systems anyway, it was music to our ears to hear that towns such Menahga, Park Rapids and Huntersville had received totals of close to – and in some areas upward of – a foot of fresh snow.
And so on Thursday, March 8, we left our office in Plymouth, Minnesota, early for what could possibly be a season-ending ride in that area. We loaded up a Polaris 800 Rush XCR and Polaris 600 Rush Pro-S and set our GPS north for the trail hub of Park Rapids, Minnesota (which also happened to serve as a geographically central location for many of the area trails that had reportedly received snow).
Park Rapids is a town of only 3,935 residents, but with three 24-hour grocery stores, several parts shops and snowmobile dealers and just as many hotels with large lots to trailer in and out of, the town serves as an ideal launching point or destination for a weekend ride. Local pizza joint Rocky’s is also a one-of-a-kind favorite for both locals and tourists like, and must be tried.
It wasn’t intentionally a Polaris-focused trip – it just so happened that we had dented the lower and upper a-arm on the Rush Pro-S on a previous trip while ditch banging through powder and hitting an unexpected drainage culvert. We figured we could use the adventure to make the needed repair and continue some gear tests in style.
Once the sleds were unloaded Thursday night, we took the opportunity for a spirited but brief lake ride to both top them off with fuel and feel some speed out on the lake.
Straight Lake in Osage, Minnesota, is a long, narrow lake that stretches a little less than 5 miles and is home to two resorts along its banks. It has a maximum depth of 60 feet, but being so narrow it freezes solid and often holds firm until mid-March or even early April. On the ride, many areas were beginning to become visibly slushy, but with a quarter-throttle pinch any lost traction was immediately upended and the sled was back up to speed with ease.
With the “chores” out of the way, we would be in good position to put on uninhibited miles the next morning, which began Friday with a jaunt through the trails of the Two Inlets State Forest trail system. After a brief pitstop at the Two Inlets Country Store – which was nominated as one of Snow Goer’s 101 Best Snowmobile Pit Stops for its spec fuel and food offerings – we set our sights west toward the Ice Cracking Lodge and Resort in Ponsford, Minnesota. Diligent readers may recall that we began the season with a ride through frigid temps to Ice Cracking in late December, and so to wrap the season with a stop at the same spot felt rather nostalgic looking back on a winter filled with many good rides.
This trip, however, was nothing like the first. On this day temperatures were in the high-20s and would broach the 30-degree threshold before it was done.
We entered the trail system onto trail 11 and then turned west onto Trail 12 which becomes Trail 14 and then runs parallel with county roads. Although there were clear dirt spots evident in some places, there were also just as many powder drifts in the ample open fields. It was also very noticeable that groomers had recently gone through the ditch trails and made an effort to make the “best of what was left.”
We were in no kind of rush, and so we decided to also go on a boondocking adventure where legal to find untouched snow in remote areas.
Where he knew it was allowed, the leader in our group would slow to a near stop, only to take a hard left or right into a completely untouched meadow, rolling hill or marsh and paint a picture on the fresh canvass of snow. At one point we made camp in the completely quiet, desolate woods – far from any signs of civilization. Well, aside from our monster machines of course.
Rejoice, friends. Even if outside your window is looking bleak, the season isn’t quite over yet for many. Get on the phone – you may just be able to still find some snow.