Snowmobile trails open Dec. 1, early snow presents challenge

As northern Minnesota received its first significant snowfall last week, many snowmobile enthusiasts are rushing to take their first ride of the season. Snowmobile riders are reminded that despite the early snow, most of the state’s snowmobile trails are not yet ready for riding, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

Minnesota’s snowmobile trails officially open Dec. 1 each year; and several conditions must be met before trails are open and ready for travel:

  • The ground must be frozen to allow for crossing wet areas.
  • Adequate snow cover, about 12 inches, must be on the ground to allow for packing and grooming of the trails.
  • Trails must be cleared of fallen trees, signs put in place and the gates opened. Snowmobile club volunteers and DNR staff are currently working on these tasks.

“While the early snow is encouraging, it acts as insulation that slows the freezing we need in order to work on brush clearing and other trail maintenance in wet areas,” Grand Rapids area supervisor Guy Lunz. “Crews are out removing brush from trails where they can, and that pace will pick up once cold weather helps freeze the low-lying areas.”

After recent record-breaking warm temperatures into early November, most lakes remain ice-free despite the recent snow. The DNR recommends a minimum of 5 inches of new clear ice for snowmobiles.

When the trails open, the DNR urges riders to use caution. Early season trails may have trees or other debris across the trails, unfrozen areas, rocks or ruts, or standing crops and closed gates. Also, road ditches can have obstacles such as culverts, signposts and rocks.

While snowmobilers wait for the arrival of cold temperatures, now is a good time to verify their combined registration and trail sticker is current, ensure their snowmobiles are in good operating order, review safety training, and check local trail maps for any route changes or new trails.

Registrations and trail stickers for new snowmobiles must be purchased in person at any deputy registrar of motor vehicles or at the DNR License Bureau in St. Paul. Renewals of registrations and trail stickers may be done in person, or online at http://licenses.dnr.state.mn.us/.

Minnesota has more than 22,000 miles of groomed snowmobile trails; more than 21,000 miles of them are maintained by local snowmobile club volunteers. Snowmobile trail maintenance costs are partially funded through the combined snowmobile registrations and trail sticker sales, and state gas tax attributed to snowmobile use. Donations and volunteer work by trail clubs make up the remainder of the costs and efforts to operate these trails.

Trail users are always encouraged to call in advance or research online to get local conditions for the area they plan to ride. State trail conditions are posted each Thursday on the DNR website at www.dnr.state.mn.us/snow_depth/index.html.

Links to snowmobile trail information, state trail maps, regulations, safety training, and more is available on the DNR website at www.mndnr.gov/snowmobiling.

Local trail conditions are often posted online by local tourism associations, chambers of commerce and volunteer snowmobile clubs. To find the nearest club, visit the Minnesota United Snowmobiler’s Association website at www.mnsnowmobiler.org.