Wrapping up sled season
HOUGHTON — Friday is the last chance for snowmobilers to get out on the trails this season.
Trails will be blocked off starting Saturday to mark the end of Michigan’s snowmobiling season, which started Dec. 1.
Groomers will make their final passes Thursday night, said Keweenaw Snowmobile Club President Ryan LaPorte. The weather may have made things unpredictable, but it was still a good season, he said.
“I think trail conditions overall have been good for our trail users and riders,” he said. “It’s an opportunity in the lower snow years where we learn more about where we can do culverts and bridges … even with the ups and downs, it’s been a good year and a good place to come ride.”
Trail grooming started on Dec. 21. Trails have mostly maintained snow cover since then, though it had to pause for two or three weeks due to abnormal rain in January and February, LaPorte said.
A typical winter is estimated to draw about 40,000 snowmobilers, LaPorte said. Based on feedback from businesses, he thinks that’s lower this year.
“That isn’t atypical when you have a lot of snow across different areas,” he said.
Joe Myllyoja, officer manager for DB MotorSports in Hancock, said snowmobile rentals had been about the same after they added eight sleds this year. On the service side, things have been “way down,” he said.
“It was kind of a low snow season, and I think a lot of those storms hit Wisconsin, south of us, so a lot of people didn’t have to come up here,” he said.
The club is working with Visit Keweenaw to get trail counters, Those would go on Nature Conservancy lands to get a more accurate count of riders, LaPorte said.
The club groomed an estimated 22,000 to 23,000 miles this season, about 10,000 below average. Whether groomers can go out largely depends on snow conditions and the time of year, LaPorte said. They don’t want to break up ice cover after a warm-up or a large amount of rain, for instance.
Groomers also shut down in instances such as whiteout conditions. In those cases, rescuers might not be able to safely reach groomers, LaPointe said.
“We’ve got people where it’s 16 miles either way to get to them, with no real road access,” he said.
Safety concerns also apply to icy conditions, such as Brockway Mountain, where rescue of a groomer that slipped off the trail would put more people and equipment at risk, LaPointe said.
“We have a crew of both operators and volunteers to help in those situations, be strategic and keep everybody safe, and provide the best trails we can with all the competing factors that go into those decisions,” he said.
The Department of Natural Resources announced Thursday that snowmobile trail grooming contracts would be extended through the weekend in some locations if snow cover allows. That does not apply in the Keweenaw, where most of the trail system goes through private land, LaPorte said.
The club will review landowner agreements to try to make it possible to extend the season into April in future winters.
The Keweenaw Snowmobile Club was able to host five events this year. One event, the club ride, had to be canceled because of warm weather.
The club has two more events to close out the season: raffle drawings on April 11, and a spring ATV ride to clean up the trails on May 20.
This summer, the club will tackle some of the issues it was able to spot because of the low snow. Those include a handful of culverts, and some bridges that will get redecking and railing.
The club coordinates with the Keweenaw ATV Club and groups such as the Department of Natural Resources to make sure their repair efforts don’t overlap.
Snowmobilers are looking forward to the repair work the DNR is doing this summer on Trail No. 3 between Lake Linden and Dollar Bay. The section has been closed to snowmobilers since 2018 due to washouts from the Father’s Day Flood.
“It’ll be a huge impact for us to get that reopened, for the communities along that trail system — Dollar Bay, Lake Linden, Hubbell — and those businesses who have not had access to the trail users,” he said.
People interested in joining the club can go to keweenawsnowmobileclub.com/join.htm. Membership dues help fund trail maintenance.
To stay current on the club’s activities, go to facebook.com/Keweenawsnomobile.