It’s been a great winter for snowmobiling across most of the Snowbelt, and the calendar that hangs in my office proves that by showing I’ve ridden a snowmobile on 45 days and surpassed my season high for snowmobiling miles. With above average snow fall and persistent cold weather, I was able to spend less time chasing snow with a pickup and trailer full of sleds and more time on the trails in Snow Goer‘s home state of Minnesota. Every snowmobile ride is great in my book, but some rides stick out as being extra special, whether that’s due to the people who I ride with, the geographic location or the snow conditions. Here are tales about five of the best snowmobile rides I took this winter, and a glimpse into my life as a staffer of Snow Goer magazine.
Minnesota Arrowhead — This four-day “toothbrush run” across cold northern Minnesota was my first big ride of the season. I set out with three friends on New Year’s Day with only the essential luggage packed on our sleds, including our toothbrushes, along with a loose plan to reacquaint ourselves with the excellent trails that meander throughout the Iron Range and Arrowhead Region of Minnesota. The kicker was that the air temperature was minus 20 degrees F when we rolled away from the truck that afternoon — and it would only get colder. What made this snowmobile trip so great? It was refreshing to finally go for a long ride and experience the woods and snow again with friends. Since it was so cold and trails were still in early season form — most hadn’t been packed or groomed yet — we saw only a handful of sleds over four days and 450 miles. Cold air usually spells clear skies in the winter, and we rode under bright sunshine that made the snow glisten in the swamps and on the trees. Touring from town to town through those conditions was an excellent way to kick off the season.
Northern Utah Powder — Just a few days after traversing frigid northern Minnesota trails, I rode through feet of northern Utah powder. I stayed at Beaver Creek Lodge near Logan, Utah, and some of the best off-trail riding conditions I’d experienced in a long time were there. It snowed during most of our stay at the lodge, and on the second day of riding we broke trail through more than a foot of fresh snow that had fallen overnight and into the day — it worked my Ski-Doo Summit and me to no end. Phew! With all of that snow for traction and to bank the sled against, I felt like a backcountry hero carving left and right, sidehilling for long distances, and choosing fun lines between the trees.
Waconia Vintage Ride-In — This ride made my Top 5 because a lot of planning and preparation were required to pull it off, and we must’ve planned and prepped very well because it went off without a hitch, mostly. We left my friend John’s house at 7 o’clock in the morning and rode our sleds — his a Yamaha Enticer 250 and mine a John Deere Trailfire 340 — to the Waconia Vintage Ride-In in Waconia, Minnesota. Before the ride, my JD needed some wiring repaired to fix the headlight and hand warmers, a new driveshaft bearing, a needle and seat for the carburetor, fresh wear bars on the skis and a quick shine with a can of WD-40 and a rag. Our path was 68 miles from John’s house to the annual vintage event, and fortunately trails were mostly smooth, and the snow drifts — after a snow storm days before and then howling winds right afterward — were soft so our leaf spring sleds sliced right through most of the drifts. That was a frigid, sunny day, but fortunately my JD has a big windshield and toasty warm handgrips. Our only mechanical problem was one seat mount bolt fell out of my snowmobile and the other loosened.
Club Trip Hot Dog Roast — This ride also involved my vintage John Deere sled. Every year the snowmobile club I belong to makes a trip to ride sleds and enjoy the fellowship of a weekend getaway and potluck dinner. This year my friend John brought his wife and I brought my girlfriend on a “couples ride” through tight and twisty groomed trails around several small, secluded lakes. To make the ride more adventurous, we rode old sleds and roasted hot dogs over a fire alongside the trail. Our lunch spot was perfect because it was a scenic point next to a frozen lake, and there was a large, fallen pine tree nearby with dry branches that were easy to cut off with a hand saw and use for firewood. With overcast skies, great people and snow softly falling on our backcountry hideaway, our peaceful cookout was a true highlight of this past winter.
Arctic Cat ZR 4000 — In addition to riding snowmobiles often, there’s at least one other thing that makes working for Snow Goer magazine such a great job: the people. A few weeks ago we were invited by Arctic Cat to ride a few 2015 ZR 4000 models in northern Minnesota. The prototype sleds weren’t ready in time for our annual spring testing event in Montana early last month, but the snow held through March in most of the land of 10,000 lakes, and that gave us the chance to ride. Aside from having the rare opportunity to go for a rip on those fun new sleds, that trip was a chance to spend a day with other people who, like us, not only earn their living in the snowmobile industry, but they also flat-out love to ride sleds and talk about them. One thing that makes the snowmobile industry so wonderful and fun is that it’s a small, unique trade fueled by people who are severely passionate about the machines and the snowmobiling lifestyle, and sharing that enthusiasm makes it pretty easy to show up to work everyday.