Despite the commonly held belief that there isn’t enough snow for snowmobiling in Minnesota — the home state of Snow Goer — this past weekend’s trip started with rumors that there was rideable snow near the North Shore of Lake Superior.
A source said that the logging roads a few miles inland of the lake were hard packed with “a little fluff” to lube the hyfax and keep the engines cool. We met Jim Porter, John Rogalla and his son Mike early Saturday morning at the Knotted Pine Resort in Isabella, Minnesota. There, our guides John and Jim said we’d ride about a quarter mile of trail all day; our routes would be sweeping minimum maintenance roads, swamps and secluded lakes in the Superior National Forest near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW).
After running a few miles of smooth, undulating, twisting, snow-covered roads that wind through towering pine trees, we rounded a curve and met a tree that had fallen across the road and lay about three feet above the road surface — it would have been trouble for an unsuspecting snowmobiler who was carrying a lot of speed.
We all ducked our heads and rolled our sleds underneath it, and then John pulled out his Sven-Saw, made two cuts and a few of us pulled the tree off the road. A few curves later, we rolled out onto a small, desolate lake and made tracks across it. We had the lake to ourselves, but we could tell that a spear fisherman had been there before because a large block of ice sat on the lake.
We saddled up after a break and made our way farther north, I believe, to a parking area on the edge of the BWCAW. This area, John said, was a former logging town, but there weren’t any buildings or other remnants for us to inspect. During our stay there, a man pulled up in a Ford Explorer and asked us how the sledding was. He was there to fish a nearby lake.
Later in the day we spotted smoke coming from a wooded island. The ground was still smoldering from a massive forest fire that began in August. A few of us walked up the bank and climbed over fallen trees to confirm that the fire was, in fact, still burning.
Small flames flared up and fizzled out while we stood by. We stepped on the flames and kicked snow around, but leaves and bark would fire up again within a few minutes. It will take a heavy snowstorm or a good soaking rain to completely snuff out one of the biggest forest fires in Minnesota history.
Riding in northeastern Minnesota is adventurous. For natives of the North Star State, it’s the closest we can get to mountain-like, backcountry riding within its borders. The Arrowhead region is beautiful. It’s secluded, rocky, tree-covered and, thanks to Lake Superior, gets pounded with snow. Lodging is scarce and you’ll need to plan your route in order to refuel before sleds run out — and you’ll pay a lot more for that go-juice when you find it (we paid $4.70 for a gallon of premium fuel on Saturday).
Snow conditions on the roads really were in excellent shape. They were smooth and fast, but there was loose snow on top to keep the track sliders sliding, and it kicked up lots of snow dust. Swampy areas along the edges of lakes were a little sketchier, but didn’t present any trouble.
In a snowmobile season with normal snow cover, trails are fabulous and usually well groomed near the North Shore. Some of the more well-known trails in the area include Tomahawk Trail, C.J. Ramstad Memorial Trail, Yukon Trail, Gunflint Trail and Pequaywan Trail. While we stayed off those trails this weekend, the creative planning and extra work that was required in order to make this ride happen was worth it for all the fun our group had snowmobiling in Minnesota’s Arrowhead Region.