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The End is Near: Last (Snowmobile) Ride of 2015?


(3/19/2015)

Winter here in Minnesota came to an abrupt end last week, as an 80-degree swing in temps and highs in the upper 60s fairly destroyed what little snow had accumulated in the past few months.

But there WAS some late season snow still hanging on in the Gunflint area of Minnesota's North Shore.

So with my son on spring break and my friend Tom Rowland always game for an adventure, on Tuesday we attempted what might be our last ride of the season.

Normally a ride that would include a bunch of cohorts, this season-ender came together so quickly (and with enough uncertainty about conditions) that it was just the three of us.

We'd heard that the Gunflint area had snow, but that trail conditions were marginal at best.

Knowing that one man's "marginal" can be another's "epic", we temped fate to see if we could squeak one more ride out of the winter that wasn't really winter.

2015 Gunflint snowmobile ride on Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Our gamble was the 4-hour drive north. If it was going to be a bust, the only loss would be time and gas money.

Turning off of Hwy 61 onto Cty Road 2 in Tofte, Minn., the road inland and up the hill showed almost zero snow. But Minnesota snowmobilers know there's a ridge that runs along this shore whose elevation brings colder temps and more snow than what occurs along the big lake.

Add to the mix heavy forests that shelter from the late winter sun melt, and you have a unique area that gets more snow and keeps it.

We were crossing our fingers and hoping for the best.

 

2015 Gunflint snowmobile ride on Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Seven miles later, where Cty Road 4 intersects with the North Shore State snowmobile trail, there was snow!

But it was clear that a week's worth of melting had done a serious number on it. And on this Tuesday the temps were forecasted to peak at 30 degrees F, which meant that what snow did remain would be rock-hard.

 

2015 Gunflint snowmobile ride on Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

We got out of the truck and walked up the trail 100 yards, just to see if we should unload or head back home.

I won't lie: the trail surface was more ice than it was snow. A gaze up the trail showed a fair amount of dirt.

In a normal year, we might have chalked it up to a good drive in the car and headed back for home. Hell, we probably wouldn't have ventured out in the first place.

But this hasn't been a normal winter, and we were bound to get in a few more miles rather than throw in the towel.

 

2015 Gunflint snowmobile ride on Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

So we donned our gear, fired up the sleds and let our adventure begin...

 

2015 Gunflint snowmobile ride on Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

...And we rode 113 miles through this kind of crap.

I kid.

Actually, I staged this photo in a recently logged area, much to the confusion of my son Cal who shot the photo.

 

2015 Gunflint snowmobile ride on Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

This is actually a representative photo of the WORST of the conditions we experienced as we rode north towards the Gunflint Trail.

Yes there was grass and dirt, but there were always sections of continuous snow so that you could avoid nearly all the brown stuff.

 

2015 Gunflint snowmobile ride on Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

In the woods, the trail still had decent snow, er, ice cover. And the further north we went, the better it got.

 

2015 Gunflint snowmobile ride on Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Pretty dang good conditions for riding after a week of temps in the 50s and 60!

Our one and only challenge was ice-like condition of the trail and the difficulty getting snow on the heat exchangers. If it had been 40 degrees on this day, the snow would have softened and we'd have been fine. But with practically no soft snow, we had to hit every available patch of untouched snow and roost the track to get into the soft stuff.

I made a mental note to install ice scratchers on my sleds before next season.

 

2015 Gunflint snowmobile ride on Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

We ventured out onto one of the lakes visible from the trail, but its surface was just as hard.

 

2015 Gunflint snowmobile ride on Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Tom Rowland had just gotten in some 2016 Arctic Cats to his dealership, Thomas Sno Sports, the day prior. His crew set up this ZR 8000 Limited and Tom was more than happy to get some test miles.

I'll let Tom add his comments about the sled (if he wants).

We vered off the North Shore trail and onto the Expressway trail, heading further inland. The Expressway was fantastic, with very few dirt/grass spots.

 

2015 Gunflint snowmobile ride on Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

We didn't really have a destination (other than lunch). We opted for an old favorite: Trail Center. It's a place my family visits pretty regularly, both in winter and summer. Fantastic food, super cool atmosphere and 91 non-ethanol fuel.

 

2015 Gunflint snowmobile ride on Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

After watching some recent snocross races, I learned from watching the 120-class racers that you can further endear yourself to the crowd by throwing your goggles to some random person.

Since Tom was the only "crowd" hanging out front of Trail Center, I threw him my goggles. Now he's my biggest fan.

 

2015 Gunflint snowmobile ride on Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Inside, Cal pulled up to the bar and coexisted with the surroundings. Then he wolfed down a massive hamburger and malt. After that culinary delight, it was time to head back for home.

 

2015 Gunflint snowmobile ride on Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Cal called home to let mom and sister know that we were okay.

 

2015 Gunflint snowmobile ride on Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Not long into our ride back to the truck, I hucked a massive move and found myself stuck in the pucker brush.

Tom shot this photo and then gave me back the goggles that I'd thrown to him.

 

2015 Gunflint snowmobile ride on Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Remnants of an old railway bridge. Cool!

 

2015 Gunflint snowmobile ride on Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

The money shot of the day, highlighting the white ribbon of trail meandering around the sort-of mountains in this area.

With the temps in this area hovering around 30 for highs this week and into next, I expect this snow/ice to stay for a while. If it gets a blast of 2-3 inches, I'll head back up for another day of riding. If not, I'm content with this being my last ride of the season.

No, it hasn't been a great snowmobiling winter in Minnesota, sadly reflected by my sled's odometer. But the miles that I have ridden have been fantastic and enough to tide me over the summer.

The silver lining to it all is that I've learned that fun, worthwhile snowmobiling is possible in far less snow than I used to require. And I relearned for the umpteenth time that, when deciding whether or not to take a chance on a ride, to go. Always GO!

Thanks for reading.

2015 Gunflint snowmobile ride on Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com



Comments (20):

Don says:
3/20/2015 6:24:00 AM

Awesome write up John. Regardless of snow conditions a day spent with family and friends is priceless. Glad to see that you were able to have seat time to fulfill the day.
Scott Watters says:
3/20/2015 7:48:00 AM

Looks like you guy's had a good (maybe) last ride in the area and yes it can be deceiving sometimes even when their is ok snow until you get over the hill and then walla. It was about the first week of April 2001-2002 me and a friend set off to the north shore at about 7 am for our last ride if the season and ended up dropping just out of Silver Bay.Trail was questionable but as we got north it got way better. Long story short a cold front came through and after over extending our stay in the area because the trails where so nice and got caught up in a lake effect blizzard. Cell phones where dead,had to run miles of rock covered trail into town to find gas and did not get back to the truck until around 11 pm. I will just say we only made it just a few miles south of Duluth to a rest stop where we had to stop and take a couple hour siesta and did not get home until 3:30 am........memories! Thanks John for another season of good articles.
Bulldog says:
3/20/2015 9:57:00 AM

Tom,
I would love to hear some comments and ride impressions of the 2016 8000 as I am thinking about purchasing one. How did the new Team Clutching and the Fox QS3 shocks perform? Has Cat upped the Ante with better fit and finish for 2016? Any info would be helpful as the lack of snow is going to prevent consumers from getting a chance to test drive the 2016's this year.
BOB says:
3/20/2015 11:41:00 AM

Seems like the U.P of Michigan can't be beat. Early season, mid season, late season, plenty of snow and GREAT trails!!
Tom Rowland says:
3/20/2015 2:09:00 PM

As Bulldog suggests above, I'm only too happy to share my thoughts on the new 2016 ZR 8000 Limited: Most obvious, it's in-your-face signature Team Arctic Green color and styling gets noticed everywhere you go. Snowmobilers and non-snowmobilers alike usually had a kind word to say about this during our outing. The Fox QS3 shock package is probably the biggest news of this snowmobile for me...there is definite and noticeable differences in each and every one of the 3 settings on the ski shocks and the rear arm shock. I tried it in every setting plenty of times. This is going to fit my particular riding style perfectly, and I can imagine it should appeal to others too. For those of us that might be on a family ride one day with a maximum speed of 20 mph, and aggressively riding ditch lines the next day...we will now tailor our shocks to any given days ride in seconds. Had I not already been aware, in the conditions we rode in this day I honestly couldn't have told you if my sled had the Team clutching on it, or the Arctic Cat clutches of the season prior. Maybe if conditions would have allowed an even wider array of riding conditions a difference might have surfaced? The Team clutches put this sleds horsepower down to the track perfectly, just as I felt our earlier clutches did too. I do think I'll appreciate the ease of adjusting belt deflection on the Team clutch, even though it was not bad on the old clutches either. In my mind it seems that the fit/finish steadily advances each year to some degree, this 2016 will not disappoint in that department either. With so much to look forward to with a new sled like this, its going to be a long hot summer.
Josh says:
3/20/2015 2:51:00 PM

You must watch ISOC on weekends as well John. The 120 winner throwing his goggles into the crowd was one thing I'll remember from this season.
Tom Rowland says:
3/20/2015 3:43:00 PM

Of all the items he was wearing that John could have removed from his body to throw to the crowd, I'm glad he chose the goggles...
matt says:
3/20/2015 8:33:00 PM

Father and son day out with a good friend is priceless great memories to reflect back on someday that is what life is about. Great write up!
taperk600 says:
3/21/2015 11:44:00 AM

Thanks again for sharing your family memories with us John. I have to say I am envious.... our son is away at college and started a co-op with Gulf Steam this spring. We haven't had snow to ride when he's been home for break the past 2 winters.... and with his rotation schedule for the co-op, he won't be home at all for riding for the next couple seasons.... Enjoy the with Cal while you can. I sure do love the memories we made as a family riding together !!

And thanks Tom for the short review on the 16 LTD. I think the QS3 package is going to be a home run for 95% of the riders out there. I think the SnoPro level sleds will see a HUGE hit in sales volume for 2016 with buyers going to this package. It may even take some sales from RR and LXR guys too. But the SPs are where the difference will be seen in my opinion. Good for Cat to bring this suspension package. Now if Cat adds rebound adjustment and an adjustable front arm shock, and I'll consider stepping back from the RR level......
fast f5 says:
3/22/2015 9:22:00 AM

Well, here in NY we still have 3' on the ground, matter of fact, I am heading out for a ride today. The trails are still in great shape, time to ride.
Bob K says:
3/22/2015 3:56:00 PM

It seems that the northeast got most of the snow this winter. Here in Caribou Maine (the most northeast city in the United States) we've had 130 inches this season, still about 20 inches on the ground. We just got a few more inches Sat. night, Sun morning. After supper, I'll have to go out and blow the wind blown snow out of my driveway. In the winter, I use my 4 wheel drive Jeep, with 4 studded snow tires. The car stays in the garage, in storage. It's also nice that I have a groomed Caribou snowmobile trail that runs through my yard, no more trailering. Come out and visit us sometime. Bob K, President, Caribou Snowmobile Club
taperk600 says:
3/22/2015 7:06:00 PM

fast f5 ... I hear ya !! I'm far from done !! Riding VT Tuesday and probably Tug Wed or Thursday... weather dependent. Rode into mid-April last season and will do it again this season too !!
Bulldog says:
3/23/2015 9:57:00 AM

Thanks for the info Tom. Hopefully the new American Made Team Clutches are more consistent in terms of quality so the belt blowing issues some 12-15 sleds had are a thing of the past. I really like the sound of those new shocks as my wife and I switch off driving this sled and I can set it on LXR when she rides it and Sno-Pro when I ride it. It should be a big help just in terms of weight difference between her and I as I outweigh her by about 70 to 80 lbs. Fit and finish does seem to be getting better and better and I hope AC keep's advancing in that area. I will be placing an order for a 8000 El'Tigre this spring to show my support for Team Green!
fast f5 says:
3/30/2015 12:18:00 PM

Still riding here in upstate NY 135 miles on Saturday, over 200 for the week, not giving up yet! Back at ya taper600, keep up the riding! 2400 so far for the season.
Anielka says:
12/19/2015 7:02:00 PM

All the major cities (Montre9al iteslf being a bit like Europe and Que9bec city too for that matter). Plus Vancouver. Anything nicer where you can swim in the ocean in the morning and go downhill skiing in the afternoon? AND a trip by train through the Rockies? ..
Anielka says:
12/19/2015 7:02:00 PM

All the major cities (Montre9al iteslf being a bit like Europe and Que9bec city too for that matter). Plus Vancouver. Anything nicer where you can swim in the ocean in the morning and go downhill skiing in the afternoon? AND a trip by train through the Rockies? ..
Anielka says:
12/19/2015 7:02:00 PM

All the major cities (Montre9al iteslf being a bit like Europe and Que9bec city too for that matter). Plus Vancouver. Anything nicer where you can swim in the ocean in the morning and go downhill skiing in the afternoon? AND a trip by train through the Rockies? ..
Retal says:
12/21/2015 12:45:00 PM

Toronto ? it's a pretty big city (I live in Toronto) and there's tons of cuturle and diversity.The mountains out west?The East coast?Old QuebecThe Great Lakes http://wzaaisbu.com [url=http://dxxghh.com]dxxghh[/url] [link=http://xduornzwgbw.com]xduornzwgbw[/link]
Retal says:
12/21/2015 12:45:00 PM

Toronto ? it's a pretty big city (I live in Toronto) and there's tons of cuturle and diversity.The mountains out west?The East coast?Old QuebecThe Great Lakes http://wzaaisbu.com [url=http://dxxghh.com]dxxghh[/url] [link=http://xduornzwgbw.com]xduornzwgbw[/link]
Retal says:
12/21/2015 12:45:00 PM

Toronto ? it's a pretty big city (I live in Toronto) and there's tons of cuturle and diversity.The mountains out west?The East coast?Old QuebecThe Great Lakes http://wzaaisbu.com [url=http://dxxghh.com]dxxghh[/url] [link=http://xduornzwgbw.com]xduornzwgbw[/link]

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