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If you had told me last week to block off Tuesday, December 7th, to go for the first snowmobile ride in Minnesota, I would have told you, you’re crazy – At my house, there was nothing but semi-green grass.

Thanks to some early snow, a call and nudge from Tom at Thomas Sno Sports (TSS), I did indeed join a group of friends for a snowmobile ride in Grand Rapids, MN yesterday, and it was nothing short of fantastic.

My absolute favorite ride trips come with ZERO plan and ZERO expectations, hence the First Ride title of report. And this is how Tom presented the ride to me on our phone call – “I’ve got three snowmobiles and the itch to ride. Lets find snow somewhere Tuesday.” Count me in.

Photo: – Joining Tom and I were (L-R), Willie Ewing, Paul Hein, (Tom Rowland) and Chris Olin, owner of Rox Speed Fx who welcomed us, but was unable to join the ride. Willie graciously volunteered the use of his tow rig and trailer for our adventure, which spoiled all of us. Thanks Willie!

Photo: Paul Hein – Our base camp at Rox Speed FX in Grand Rapids, MN. December 7th had to be one of the earlier rideable snow conditions I can think of. We were fortunate enough to break-in some 2022 Arctic Cats.

Based on recent snow totals, we started our early morning in Milaca at TSS thinking about riding in McGregor, then it shifted to driving slightly more north to a parking lot we were familiar with in Hill City, then after a quick call to Chris at Rox to inquire about snow conditions, he offered the use of his shop/parking lot just south of Grand Rapids. The resemblance of a plan was set in motion.

Photo: – Our 2022 rides for the day (L-R) were Thundercat with EPS and ATAC, ZR6000 Limited, Riot 8000 and ZR8000 RR.
Photo: – All of our 2022 units started with ZERO miles.

Our 2022 snowmobiles all started with ZERO miles, and the conditions were perfect for breaking them in. In a separate story, Ill give a few ride opinions of these units.

Photo: – A quick rip to the end of the Rox property led us to the Shinglemill trails with our ultimate goal of making it to Hill City, MN for lunch. Above, Willie couldn’t help but give his new Thundercat a little touch of throttle in the fresh powder.

In short, the first ride conditions were excellent. The snow varied in depth, but for the most part, we were the first to break/pack trail on a fresh 10-inches and didn’t hit anything.

Photo: – The terrain in Grand Rapids area consists of many twisting trails through rolling hardwoods with a mix of swamp sections. So far, this early in the season, the swampy areas were freezing nicely, and trails were free from most obstacles like fallen trees. We avoided any areas with large water crossings as the lakes had recently skimmed over and weren’t rideable.
Photo: – We weren’t far into our ride, when we crossed paths with two local riders who were out to enjoy the day and start packing the trails. They warned us our ride on that particular trail would be cut short due to a large fallen tree about a mile ahead. Once we found it, instead of going off-trail around it and trespassing, we made a “Log bridge” to cross over it and continued to Hill City.
Photo: Paul Hein – Along the way, we made it to one of my favorite shelters in the Grand Rapids area. I refer to it as the West Shelter, but I could be completely wrong with that reference. During the height of riding season, this shelter always has an incredible fire going and quite a few times, 50-plus snowmobilers hanging out here. (L-R) Tom, Willie, Kale
Photo: – Its hard to pass up the opportunity to take a quality scenic bridge-crossing photo. It won’t be long before more snow comes with more riders and groomer passes, and these early trail grasses will disappear.Until then, we were happy to be the first to make tracks.
Photo: – We were successful making our way to Hill City, MN where we stopped for lunch at Harry’s Bar and Grill. The owner had just pulled a pig off the smoker, and we were treated to fresh pulled pork sandwiches. I’d highly suggest stopping there for great food and friendly atmosphere where Snowmobilers and Off-Road enthusiasts are welcomed.

The mileage total at our lunch stop in Hill City hovered around 30 miles. Based on time left in the day, we collectively decided to head back towards the Rox shop, which would be a nice conclusion to our 60-mile adventure by sunset.

Photo: – Tom’s grandkids love this helicopter in Hill City, so before we headed back to Rox, he wanted to take a winter photo in front of it.
Photo: – Our ride back to the Rox shop consisted of more trail breaking/packing and looking at our GPS to see where the heck we actually were.
These intersection stops were some of the best parts of the day which included quick funny story sharing, trail direction questioning, and that one particular time I may have woodpecker’d over the windshield of the RIOT I was riding, kissing the hood, but landing on my feet like an samsquanch-sized gymnast…all while attempting to turn the snowmobile around at .5mph. [SIGH] Did I mention this was the first ride of season?
Photo: – We poked our head inside the Rox shop to say our Good-byes, and I was enamored with their wall of fame upon entry. Rox had recently celebrated their 50th custom build, most of which were highlighted in National Magazines adorned to this wall.
Photo: – Rox is hands-down the leader in rider ergonomics for snowmobiles with their adjustable risers and Flex-Tec handguards. Here, Ryan (R) gives Willie, Tom and Paul a quick tour. Chances are, if you’ve ever called Rox for tech support or other questions, Ryan was who you talked with.
Photo: – Our crew poses for a quick photo with some of the great staff at Rox. Ryan in middle, Dalton (yellow shirt), Rita and Baylee.
Photo: – Willie Ewing and this 2022 Arctic Cat Thundercat will be attempting to set a world record – Riding 24hrs and 2,000 miles.

On our route back to Rox, I snapped the above photo of Willie Ewing on his 2022 Thundercat. I first introduced you to Willie during Haydays this past Fall (Read Story Here) and outlined his World Record attempt to ride 24hrs straight and top 1,908 miles. Periodically throughout the season, Ill share updates about Willie and his Thundercat. You can follow him on your own at and on Facebook and Instagram.

I hope snow has visited your areas, and you’ve been fortunate enough to lay down those first tracks of the season. For me, they are some of the most memorable rides. – Kale



  1. Happy to see you guys with a ride report in my neck of the woods, and glad everything went well. We’re still clearing trails north of Grand Rapids, but it won’t be long before people can start packing down the swamps.

    • We were impressed with how good of condition the trails were. I know we didn’t go terribly far, but there were only three times we encountered down trees. In hindsight, we wished we would have brought a chainsaw to help clear those areas. It wouldn’t have taken us long.

  2. Looks SWEET! Hoping to be on my new ride soon but for now will just live vicariously through you on what had to be a freaking blast!

  3. Well played gentlemen! Lots of snow in the Bemidji, and Clearwater county area. Been busy breaking in the new XC race stuff. Love the smell of 2 stroke in the morning!

  4. NICE! My thumb is itchy. I see most have the big windshield. I tried one not for me. The wind was worst on back of neck, and the look terrible. Wish Cat would make one like the LXR you could get with old hood. Style and protection. Or will one fit the new Tcat?

  5. Always good to see you guys! Thanks for stopping in! We could tell it was a good ride from all the smiles! Can’t wait to get out there!

  6. Retro. You know the taller (mid height which is what is on these sleds) windshields make for a faster sled? You can tuck under the shield and pick up 5-6 mph. My 2018 6000 with the standard shorty would hit 93-95 on a long lake pull. Put the tall one on and hit 101 on my GPS same run, similar conditions.

  7. i sure have notice the lack of ArcticWear what used to be the clothing to have .Has now been replaced by FXR & Klim has that been cut back in quality by Textron . which I think Textron owns Motofist But Kale stil has Cat Gear go Kale !!!!!!!!!!!!

    • I love the Team Arctic race suits for a couple reasons…the first, is they are available in Tall sizes, the second, I like the fact they are a shell and don’t have insulation. For me personally, I choose between two different base layers (Lightweight and Mid) and then wear a TekVest. That keeps me warm for the majority of weather throughout the season. Third, I love the hi-viz orange. It’s pretty awesome to be seen when riding in snow dust conditions with a group.

      I did in fact just buy the Team Arctic Pro Jacket in Gray for daily wear and outdoor events. I like the subtle design, longer length and detachable hood. The quality/design seems better than ever, but I share your sentiment…I would like to see more ArcticWear back in the dealerships. BTW – Textron does in fact still own Motorfist. Again, the quality/designs there have increased, but the brand needs some marketing dollar support.

  8. Right, you are JimR. Thats why my 12 Retro has a LXR screen. That tall tombstone they make now is no good. Makes too big of a hole, and the wind circles back and pounds up my neck, and on back. But maybe that’s just my aerodynamic figure. Yes, all Arcticwear in this house. Still have stuff from 80’s, and still good. Sad to see that line up dying. Just updated CAT suit 7, trying a new CAT modular helmet. Glad I just get a second TXI helmet few years back, (wife and Me) that is also something good that is gone. She’s going to try a FXR suite this year. And walk in places behind me, your either Team Arctic, or you’re not.

  9. Grayt ride good one. Yeah, gray for the 60th, some real big thinkers involved with that call. But don’t worry a source said he saw no gray in next year’s lineup. Sickening.

  10. I still have all my Arcticwear suits 6 jackets 2 bibs 1 complete leather suit i can remember going with my dad to a Arctic Cat dealer in Clarks Grove Mn and my dad getting his first Arcticwear suit i think back in the 79 roughly then they were made in house in northern Mn my Dad was so proud of that 2 pc suit it was like a status symbol . he had the gloves, mask Arctic beanie all which I still have and purple mettalic open face helmet with a flip up orange colored shield and a 72 Puma 399 which i also stll have and no other brand than Cat


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