Christmas came a few days early for me and a few friends, with each of us hitting pause on the myriad work and life responsibilities during the gnarly prelude to Christmas, to instead enjoy our first ride of the 2017-2018 snowmobile season.
It was a familiar cast of characters, each of whom I’ve enjoyed several first (and last) rides of the season over the past many years: Pat Bourgeois from OSM Magazine/Snowmobiler Television/Bang Productions; the snow hunter Paul Hein; and our ringleader for this trip, Tom Rowland from Thomas Sno Sports.
A week of snow reports, website navigation and group texts culminated with the four of us willing to take a shot at riding snowmobiles despite a lot of uncertainty about the conditions. No one had high expectations. The hope was simply to put on a few miles… to stretch the legs, so to speak.
We met bright and early at a breakfast stop in Hinkley, Minn., still uncertain about whether we’d take a chance on riding on the North Shore of Lake Superior or in the Hayward, Wis., area. Both locations were reported to have around 8 inches of snow on the ground.
We piled into Tom’s truck, flipped a coin and then pointed ourselves toward Hayward. An hour later, during which the optimism increased proportional to the snow depth, we decided to unload in Minong and hit the trails, a couple of which apparently had been groomed.
When four crusty dudes head into a snowmobile ride with low expectations, and the first 15 miles are nothing but rolling forestland and nicely groomed trails, they tend to stop every 10 minutes to express their surprise and euphoria. They also express the 10 cups of coffee they consumed at breakfast.
We spent the next several hours exploring the trails and forest roads near Hayward, Seeley and Cable. Some of the trail was groomed and nearly perfect, other parts were in need of brushing/chainsaw work and another few inches of snow. But everywhere we rode was worthwhile and I’d repeat the exact same route again today if I were in a position to do so.
We met just one other group during the day (whom we saw twice and stopped to talk with both times), which isn’t much of a surprise considering it was a weekday, early in the season, during the crazy pre-Christmas build-up that consumes so much of our lives.
I spent equal time on a 2018 XF 8000 Cross Country, 2018 ZR 7000 and 2018 Norseman 6000. A few observations: I really, really enjoy the C-TEC2 8000 engine (and you can DEFINITELY feel the difference when it clears the break-in mode!); the ZR 7000 is one dialed-in ride…the extra weight on the skis gives it a planted feeling that is comfortable and consistent. It’s a sled that’s gotten better over the years; the Norseman is a damn fun machine, with a 154-in. track (and articulating rear spenny) that absolutely smoothens out the holes, branches and sharp-edged junk that characterizes an early-season trail in need of some loving. Of course it’ll go through the bush and deep snow with ease, but I was reminded that it’s a dang good trail machine too.
We finished the ride guided by headlight and the last bit of ambient light, with a light snow starting to fall as we loaded the sleds into the trailer.
The odometers read anywhere from 83 to 93 miles logged, not because of inconsistency but rather because nobody remembered to zero-out the odo’s prior to riding. Regardless, it was just enough riding that I could feel my shoulders as I settled into the ride back to where we’d all met earlier that day.
The conversation in the truck sounded like a highlights reel of the day. There was astonishment that the conditions were so much better than anticipated. There was laughter about Pat hiding the key to my sled when we left the shelter (and the fact that it took me five minutes to find the damn key). For reasons I can’t begin to know, I told the other group of riders we saw that we were from Waco, Texas. I was assured by everyone in the truck that I was going to hell for that lie. We compared observations on each sled. And we howled about Pat inadvertently ALMOST wrecking a snowmobile and the trailer in his hasty attempt to load up at the end of the ride. Mostly we just talked about how good it felt to jump start another season of snowmobiling.
Here’s hoping Christmas (and the gift of snowmobiling) finds you this holiday season.
Thanks for reading.
Driving toward our departure location of Minong, Wis., with Paul checking trail reports, Tom checking to make sure he picks the most dangerous section of road on the planet to try and pass someone, and Pat checking his pants after the truly sketch pass.
The first ride of the season for the gang and the tremendous relief that:
1. Nobody forgot critical gear
2. The gear we had last year still fits!
3. Stretching and light calisthenics really can help loosen up OMBS (old man back syndrome).
Lots of high-fives and fist-bumps after riding wonderfully groomed trails for the first 15 miles.
An awesome trail shelter east of Minong, Wis. This is where Pat hid the key to my sled, then left me for the wolves.
New trails and riding areas for everyone in the group… always a good thing!
Lunch at the Sawmill in Seeley.
We ran across this group twice during the day. In a moment of lighthearted fun, I told them we were from Waco, Texas. They were pretty surprised to see a group of southerners out enjoying the trails.
Arctic Cat’s new Norseman 6000 is a damn capable machine that’ll go out for a rip with yer buds one day, do ice-fishing duty the next, then wrap it up with some bushwacking and swamp exploration whenever the opportunity arises. it’s ability to rip trails was the big surprise for our group.
The 2018 XF 8000 Cross Country is a machine that will deliver immense satisfaction to riders who want to play everywhere from trails to powerlines to powder. The 137-in. track with 1.7-in. lugs is great for trail running (I put ice scratchers on mine last year, which I recommend for icy conditions) and deep snow. The Arctic Cat C-TEC2 800 flat-out rips, especially in the low- and mid-range. FOX QS3 shocks are the absolute bomb. And it’s been several years now that Cat has had the whole balance and calibration of the suspensions absolutely dialed-in, so that it rides with total precision and confidence.
I love when I’m on a trail that’s a constant series of turns for what seems like miles upon miles, and then all of the sudden there’s one of these signs that seems to suggest “OK, now it’s REALLY gonna get twisty!”
Bringing ‘er in for the evening.
Pat was on the sled on the right, driving onto the trailer. What he didn’t know was, the left ski of the Cross Country was hooked on the snowflap, and that he was TOWING the Cross Country behind him and onto the trailer. It wasn’t until the CC hooked on the rear door cable that he stopped, thankfully before anything terrible happened.
The lesson: Pat has no credibility.
The last bit of unloading/re-loading in our respective vehicles, with a light snow falling.