March 29, 2011

It’s been one helluva snowmobile season across most of the Snowbelt. In Minnesota, the home of Snow Goer magazine and snowgoer.com, it’s been the fifth snowiest winter on record with 84.7 inches of snow recorded so far at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

The snow came early (12 inches fell outside our office on November 13) and often (central Minnesota had 16 days with measurable snow in January, the normal count is 8 days). Fortunately for snowmobilers, the air stayed cold so the snowpack increased over the winter months and made for sledding heaven.

There’s still a white blanket on the lawn outside my office window, but not for long. Here at the end March, winter is slowly but surely giving way to spring. Even though high temperatures in Minnesota lately have been running about 10 degrees below normal, the sun’s rays are ultra-powerful this time of year so the snow and ice is melting even though thermometers register only about 30 degrees F.

This was the scene during our ride on the morning of March 20th north of Grand Marais, Minnesota.
Snowmobile trails in Minnesota officially close on Friday, which leaves us with two more days to ride. Not willing to let good snow go to waste, Snow Goer Associate Editor Tom Kaiser and I will head “up north” early tomorrow morning for one last blast up the C.J. Ramstad Memorial North Shore State Trail. It follows the northern shore of Lake Superior, about 5 miles inland.

This is the same trail that I rode about 10 days ago to further test the Ski-Doo rMotion rear suspension, and conditions then were excellent, not only for March, but for the middle of winter! (We’ve been blessed in Minnesota this year.) I worked the phones and Internet yesterday and learned that conditions have held up well over the past week and a half, so I’m anticipating another great ride. Temps are supposed to be in the mid-40s and skies are supposed to be clear. Can life get any better?

We’re going to ride our Ski-Doo Renegade E-TEC 800R X and Polaris 600 IQ Shift. The Renegade is the miles leader in our fleet this year, with almost 3,000 clicks on the odometer. I’ve put on a lot of those miles testing the TEAM Tied secondary clutch from TEAM Industries, Custom Axis shocks from Hygear Suspension and Split Rail skis. I’ve been raving about those revolutionary skis since I installed them last month, so Kaiser is looking forward to trying them out.

Our Polaris Shift has a new aftermarket product that makes it really easy to adjust ski pressure so riders can dial in the handling performance as riders prefer and conditions dictate. I’ve found the Trac-Link from Between The Lines Designs to be a really cool, simple product that should appeal to riders who are willing to put forth a little extra effort to tune their sled as conditions change. Riders use a half-inch wrench or socket to turn a bolt that shortens or lengthens the front limiter strap. If you’re familiar with the system on the Polaris Xtra-10 skidframe used in the mid to late 1990s-era Indy sleds, it works similarly to that.

We've seen friendly, furry creatures on the Gunflint Trail.
So, will this be my last ride of the year? If all goes as planned, no. I hope to make a cannonball run next month from the Midwest Coast out to Cooke City, Montana. A buddy and I want to time it with a foot or two of fresh snow, so wish us luck! And barring a drastic change in weather patterns, forest roads in the far northeast part of Minnesota will likely hold up for a couple more weeks, so I could make another run up there. Rather than a trail map, I’ll need an official forest service map to find my way around. If you’re lucky enough to have rideable snow within a few hours like I do, get out there and use it before it’s all gone.

— Andy Swanson, Snow Goer managing editor

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