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3 variables to consider in early-season snowmobiling

It’s that first ride of the season. For some, it’s a chance to ride the new sled; for some, it’s simply the need to hit the trails ASAP; and for some, it’s knowing how that ride is actually helping the trail.

The three variables to consider are to ride where the trail is open, to beware of trail conditions, and to actually help by riding.

No matter what, make sure you have a current trail permit and that your snowmobile is registered in your home state. Without the trail permit and registration, none of the following variables matters. You cannot ride on any trail other than on your own property.

Let’s start with the first variable. Even though the trails can open on December 1, that does not mean they are open. Trails that are on private land, that the club and the Michigan DNR has a private trail easement, may not be open. The landowner has the right to keep the trail closed if the landowner thinks the snowmobilers may be doing damage to the land. Such as trails that go through wet areas. For those trails, the club and the landowner work together to prevent any damage to the trail. You may think that the ruts you create don’t do any damage, however those ruts prevent proper spring drainage. Plus they become a safety hazard. You won’t find a club or landowner that wants to have snowmobiles run into a wet spot and get seriously hurt, That first variable is to simply know what trails are open and which ones are not.

The second variable is for the die-hards, hard-core snowmobilers that want to ride, no matter the trail conditions. This is where you can ride your snowmobile on July 4 if you want. The state of Michigan has multi-use trails that are open year-round. These are trails on land that is owned by the state of Michigan, many are abandoned rail grades. Even though they may not be groomed, simply because of a lack of snow, you can still ride them. The main concern is the same as riding on any other trail at this time of the year. You still have to ride with caution. Take your time on those trails. Even though the volunteers of the clubs have been out doing the best they can with signing, including warning signs, the conditions will change often. Thus the second variable is if you absolutely have to ride, find a designated multi-use route.

The third variable may actually surprise even the most experienced riders. Understand that the early snow, combined with rain and warm weather, did not give the trails a chance to freeze. The ground, swamps and many trails need to be packed. This is where slow and attentive riding can actually help the trail. Snowmobiles can pack the trail down and give the groomers a chance to get out and also pack the trail, without damaging the trail or the groomer.

Many in this area will not know about an experience a club had along M-28 in Bergland a few years ago. A groomer not only got stuck in a swamp, but it took heavy equipment – tow trucks and you name it – to pull that groomer out. To put it simple, it was a very bad situation.

For those that go West to ride the Rockies, they may have seen the drags they use. They cut very little, the purpose of their drags is in the huge and heavy roller they use. After guiding groups out West for close to 30 years, I asked what the purpose of the roller is: “In place of taking snow off the trail, we are constantly packing it. We know a lot of people from the Midwest come out here to ride in March and even April. By packing the trails, we hold the snow on the trails longer than cutting the moguls, and ending up pushing snow off the trail.”

This made so much sense to me that you can imagine how excited I was to see a club in our area actually have a roller. This is the North Country Snowmobile Club, based out of Ontonagon and White Pine. The President of that club, Mike Olson, and their head technician, Jason Pragacz, has posted on social media as to how excited they are.

Unless they have a crystal ball, how did they know that just getting the roller this fall, would come in so handy right out of the gate. Now I’m sure some of the old timers will say, “the drags we’ve had for years has a pan that does the job. The pan on the drag is nowhere near enough weight and compression per square inch as this new roller that the North Country Snowmobile Club has.”

In the meantime, that third and final variable is on some trails, your safe and attentive riding can actually help the trail by packing it down.

The best way to keep the snowmobile trails throughout the Keweenaw as one of the Top 3 in the nation, is to get some real cold weather for an extended period of time.

While my crystal ball was free with the purchase of a pizza at the local convenience store, it still shows that we will have a lot of snow this winter. Those looking for a new or great previously owned sled, head to your local Dealer ASAP. I will be broadcasting live on Eagle Radio for the Pat’s Motorsports Open House on December 10. Stop by, and tell me that I’m wet behind the ears, on these three variables.

Then get a great deal on a snowmobile and get ready to ride!

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