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A Saturday In The Bayfield Peninsula: Trail Riding At Its Finest

By John Prusak

It was a cold yet glorious Saturday for riding on January 26, 2019, as Team Snow Goer headed north and a bit east out of the Minneapolis area to enjoy the awesome riding conditions currently found in Wisconsin’s Bayfield Peninsula.

The peninsula, which juts out into Lake Superior at the top of the Badger state, is famous of being the most dependable place for snow in Wisconsin, and that has been the case this year as well. That said, a swath of the southern part of the state got good snow in the last week, resulting in a lot of counties along the Wisconsin/Illinois border opening their trails for the first time this year. With a cold weekend being talked about by the weather geeks on TV, we considered trailering far south instead of heading north for our ride, but a check of the forecast called for a Saturday high of 6 degrees in Bayfield in the far north and 7 degrees for in Lancaster in the far south – with no real difference forecasted, we opted for the shorter drive!

That said, I don’t know if it ever made it to that forecasted high in Bayfield. The truck thermometer dropped all the way down to minus 13 F during our drive to Brule, Wisconsin, where we unloaded a 2019 Ski-Doo MX Z X-RS 600R and 2019 Yamaha Sidewinder L-TX SE at the big parking lot across from the Kro Bar & Grill along Highway 2 and headed north on the sleds.

BRRRRR… Then WEEEEEE!     

It seems we started out intending to freeze ourselves to death! We first took the rail trail (Trail 2) going east toward Iron River, then hooked a left and turned north on Trail 31 before then opting for the similarly long, fast and straight rail-trailesque Trail 3 to the left where it intersected with Trail 31. That may have been a mistake, given what I found out shortly thereafter.

My riding partner for the day was my 21-year-old son – a guy who has always considered himself more of a snowboarder than a snowmobiler, but this winter I think I have f-i-n-a-l-l-y won him over to the “good side,” as he now wants to go snowmobiling all of the time. #winning!

That said, Mr. Snowboarder has a favorite pair of bibs he wears in all of his winter sports activities, and he found out in a hurry they weren’t very windproof compared to true snowmobile gear. He’d snowmobiled wearing them earlier in the year without a problem, but this day the wind wrapping around the chassis drove a mighty chill into his legs that it took forever for him to shake.

After far too long on straight stretches, we finally got into the twisting trails, running a loop on the ultra-scenic Trail 66, then right again on the twisting, turning Trail 43 before reversing course and running 43 back up to the intersection with 66, with a stop at the Mt. Baldy overlook. Fresh snow hung from every branch and conditions bordered on perfect, and I hoped all of the curves would help him warm up, but they didn’t. Next, we ventured east on the wonderfully tight Trail 40 (a.k.a., the Lenawee Trail) – going over hills and into valleys and crossing multiple tempting forest service roads as we weaved between the trees. I was having a great time. My son? At one stop he stressed that he needed to get somewhere warm, and soon.

We set our target for an earlier-than-planned lunch at the famous Valhalla View Pub & Grub. The morning sun we so enjoyed was starting to be covered with high clouds as we pulled up at the welcoming pitstop and went inside.

An hour of warming up at the Pub & Grub – plus a steak sandwich and cup of soup – was just what the doctor ordered for my counterpart. After lunch, we had an absolutely glorious ride, dropping south on Trail 33 before catching one of my favorite snowmobile trails in the entire Upper Midwest – the twisting part of Trail 31 that weaves in and out of the trees, through the barons and over particularly rugged, hilly territory above Moquah and Ino in the general direction of Iron River. 

The trail, frankly, was not in great shape… and that made it great for our purposes! With plenty of turns and a somewhat choppy, bumpy surface, we both worked up a true sweat and completely forgot about the ambient temperature! There were rises in the trail to catch a little air over, plenty of see-through corners in clearings, a few forest service roads to explore: It was trail riding at its finest — a real treat exploring the somewhat rugged terrain in this part of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

In the particularly twisting sections, the MX Z was definitely the sled of choice between the two machines. It was light, easy to maneuver and had a Ice Ripper track that helped keep the rear end of the sled in line. The Sidewinder, though, was terrific when the trails opened up and we could use its amazing power. It also had a tall windshield on it vs. the plastic insert that served as a windshield on our MX Z, making it a warmer ride, plus the front end stayed well planted.  

Our only problem at this point? We were getting back to the truck too soon. After finding ourselves in Iron River before sundown, we crossed Highway 2 and decided to check out the conditions of trails 31 and 24 as they headed south in the general direction of Drummond and Cable. Well, the trails were certainly maintained, but the total amount of snow on them dropped dramatically south of Highway 2. We rode in that direction for awhile, then doubled back and got to our truck before dark.

Another fabulous ride in the books. It’s going to be an especially frigid week, but we’ll be riding the trails nonetheless.

Editor’s Note: Every issue of Snow Goer magazine includes in-depth sled reports and comparisons, aftermarket gear and accessories reviews, riding destination articles, do-it-yourself repair information, snowmobile technology and more! Subscribe to Snow Goer now to receive issues delivered to your door 6 times per year for a low cost.

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