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HomeFeaturesWinter is Still Here (with the Best Riding of the Year)

Winter is Still Here (with the Best Riding of the Year)

Overlooking Arrow Lake in Ontario

Who says this was a forgettable winter?

Yep, January sucked for winter lovers in most areas this year. But February and March have been outstanding!


Overlooking the Pigeon River west of Hovland, Minn.

The photos here were taken over the past weekend in the border region of Minnesota and Canada north of Grand Marais and west of Thunder Bay.

A group of us spent a long weekend riding trails and bushwhacking along rivers, creeks and old logging roads, stunned at the waist-deep snow and -15 F overnight temps. It felt like winter-in-January, except with WAY longer daylight hours.

Snow Depth 3-16-13

Winter is still there, as well as across a huge swath of North America. And the 10-day forcast suggests that it won’t be melting anytime soon.

I know there are some sledders who “turned off the switch” sometime a couple weeks ago and are done riding for the season. Bummer, because this is the best time for riding this (or any) winter.

The days are long; the afternoon sun is warm; the snow is well set-up in the woods for good bushwhacking; and (for some reason I can’t understand) there’s hardly any traffic on the trails.

On South Fowl Lake on the border of Minnesota and Canada

Personally, I’m taking advantage of the situation. Later this week I’ll be up in TRF for some more riding, and I have another short trip planned next week. And judging from the three inches that fell in my area today, there’ll be tracks leaving the yard after my son is home from school and the homework is wrapped up.

(Note: I apologize for not posting more stories these past couple of weeks. It’s because I’ve been out riding. Lots of stories to tell… just bear with me until winter starts to melt… which might be later next month.)



  1. Just got back from Bayfield county in Wisconsin. Lots of snow, trails are very nice and no traffic!! Lots of time to ride yet!

  2. I spent all my money racing this year! Have fun on the trails, glad to see a good long season cause after last year a lot of businesses were hurting.

  3. Well John TRF just got more snow today and the ditches are over flowing Maybe tomorrow the wind will die down and you can get some ridin in later

  4. 8 inches today in Bemidji, MN. Thats on top of the pile of snow we already had. Best conditions in years. Cold weather forcast for a good while longer. Get out and ride. It doesn’t get any better than this! Have fun!

  5. Nobody is riding the trails because premium fuel is 4.40$/gallon!! I actually sold my sleds! Couldn’t afford 250$ riding days for my wife and I to go out riding for a whole day…….

  6. Rode southern shawano and northern waupaca county wi on saturday.Trails were cherry unbelievable for st pattys weekend in central wi.Considering a year ago i was sitting in a boat and pounding walleyes in 75 degree weather.

  7. The U.P. has a ton of snow and the best trail conditions in years. We just aren’t seeing the sleds out there. Even Munising to Grand Marais wasn’t busy. 10 years ago we’d wait an hour to get fuel in Grand Marais – now we just drive up to the pump. Last Saturday we went from Ishpeming to Twin Lakes – easily a 200 mile day. We might have seen 2 dozen — no more than 3 dozen sleds the whole day. Some might argue that it’s mid March and people are moving on to spring stuff — but it’s been this way all winter. Remember the days you’d have to book rooms 6 months or more in advance? Now you can book rooms anywhere up here a few days ahead of time.

    I think it’s more than gas prices; it’s sled prices too. It’s insurance prices; trail permit prices; and the fear that spending all this money for a low snow winter. It’s also safety concerns. These high tech; high powered sleds are often driven by people with little appreciation or understanding of what they really own.

    I think some sled makers and all the magazines are missing the mark. They are focusing so much on new technology and sleds with all the gimmicks. The OEM’s are offering what used to be aftermarket stuff and building bigger and faster sleds every year too. That might work well in the short run, however, the numbers on the trails speak for themselves. People are leaving and IMO our sport is in a pretty substantial decline.

  8. Last weekend two riders from my neck of the woods drove north to Waupaca County, Wis., where the trails are open, and set off on a “let’s see where we end up” trail ride, and they spent the night in Copper Harbor, Mich. said the trails were empty and groomed like a freeway the entire way.

  9. New sleds are not as popular as they used to be. Even the club I belong to the guys are running older stuff. New ones cost too much is all I hear and who can argue. It ain’t cheap. Most of the new sleds don’t represent people with riches either, it’s guys with credit. I have a buddy that has got a new sled every year since the 1960’s and even he comments on the rising cost over the years. The little guy is pretty much out on this sport when it comes to new stuff!! I have a great deal of respect and admiration for the guys that are hanging onto the sport running the older iron. Now that takes dedication.

  10. 30 plus inches of snow in the Thief River Falls (home of Cat) area and it just keeps piling up. Rode in the Fourtown area this past weekend and will head up to the Northwest Angle next weekend.

    P.S. Wonder if the girlfriend will forgive me if I also ride the weekend after next which is Easter? I’m sure her family will understand………………………

    P.P.S. Say hi to cousin Joey from me.

  11. hugh says:
    3/18/2013 7:38:00 PM

    Who uses premium?

    Some folks do own sleds requiring it, fault of their own, but situations do exist.

  12. When coming back from the Lake Geneva races on Sunday and heading north towards Wausau, I met trailer after trailer heading home from the weekend of riding.
    My opinion with the amount of snow in Wisconsin yet, the local people can ride right outside their door, such as myself, and not have to haul anywhere.
    When snow is abundant, sled riders are spread throughout the state/upper michigan and the trails remain excellant.
    The fact is that the sport is expensive no matter how old of equipment that you ride.
    Most of us have learned where to ride and what establishments cater to us without breaking the bank.
    These best kept secrets are why my family continues to love the sport!

  13. Gas prices are definitely the killer. Granted, I trailer further than most. We put over 200 gallons of gas ($800+) through the truck taking our trip to the U.P. this year. The hotel bill for a week cost less than the gas to get there. The amount of money I spent on gas for the sled ($300) was about the same as what I put into the truck 10 years ago.
    The sleds are getting more fuel efficient… but 8 mpg in the tow vehicle is the biggest expense.

    For me, it’s worth it. But fewer and fewer people are willing to spend the money to travel like that.

  14. I too think there are many reasons why, in recent years, there hasn’t been crazy sled traffic despite good conditions. Many reasons.

    But the biggest reason for most people has been the unpredictability of winter. People don’t want to commit their resources (time and money) to something without a guarantee of participation. Understandable.

    I do believe there’s a TON of nuance to the above though.

    I’m not sure that the unpredictability of weather is any different now than it was 20 or 30 or 50 years ago. I AM sure that we are busier and are hit with more doubt-casting “news and weather” inputs than 20 years ago, which hurts participation.

    I feel bad for anyone who wants to do this sport but job or financial hurdles prevent it. That bites, I’m sorry if that’s you and I truly hope for better days ahead.

    But for all the people who normally want to ride and are able to, yet turned off their switch in January because of the poor conditions… I can only hope you rediscover the best part of the riding season. Which IMO has always been Feb-March.

  15. My wife and I have been riding in NW MN lakes area, (naytahwaush east to Itasca Park, Park Rapids woods area) since December. There was a time when you needed studs, which we have, but now is unbelieveable. It actually gets rougher now than it did before the big snows. Yes it is hard on the checkbook, but you can’t put a pricetag on the fun. The MFG’s do need to take a real serious look at the cost of these machines though. $10,000 for a sled is killing the industry, no matter what the cost of fuel is.

  16. True Rusty, but if I really loved the sled personally I’d pull the head, have my machinist take 2 or 3 cc’s out of the chambers and run it on regular. We’ve lost more engines on premium because it so often sits while regular is turned over quickly. (Gone are my younger days of running them on the edge.)

  17. I hear ya’ Hugh. My sons sled runs premium and just maybe while its down this summer we will pull he same maneuver? His choice really though, since it does run like a scalded animal when top end is in great shape.

  18. My 2 cents from northern Maine. We too are hit with high gas prices, an older population that is more chosey about when to ride. Trail 81 is right beside my home, the only traffic that I have seen this winter has been on weekends. You can tell the people who come from afar, they have the new sleds. My riding was cut short this winter, had planned to take a week off and ride all weel long, but since our wonderful leaders can’t get their stuff together, I am one of the lucky government workers along with my wife who will be forced to take 22 furlough days between April 21 and October 1st. I along with my wife will be each losing 20% of our annual pay. There goes my plans for the new el tigre for next winter. Planning on retiring in a few years and want to upgrade to a newer sled, will have to wait, and that sucks, haven’t bought a new toy in a long time! But this my situation. As John stated above, there are many nuances, but I believe the sport will remain strong, maybe just a smaller group of die hards. I too think the price of new sleds are a bit high, but stand back, take a deep breath and look at the technology we are getting for a relatively fair price, 4 stroke engines, who would have thought that just a few years ago, fuel injected motors, the new frames and suspensions and the list goes on. Thanks for reading!

  19. All very good points as mentioned. Another thing I observed while in the powersports industry for 25 years, throughout the 70’s and 80’s, the vast majority of the people involved were mechanically inclined and or tinkerers. With the beginning of the EFI, computer, 4-stroke, etc, etc, the average guy that loved to play with pipes, clutching, and carburetors was now kinda in the dark. While these advancements were definately needed for EPA regs, driveability, milage, etc. it discouraged the majority of the guys in their 40s or 50s that weren’t into the computer age. The new generation tunes with a lap-top which is great, but it DID run off a lot of old sledders that could afford the new sled every year, but lost intrest when they couldn’t fart around to try to beat thy neighbor.

  20. John you are spot on with the insecurities of wanting to get into the sport and justifying if it really pays out. Example a year ago Sunday it was 82 degrees here in WI and yesterday morning woke up to -14 and now almost 20 below with the wind. Everything comes back on a swing. It’s just a matter of time. As for now just get out and enjoy the snow! In a way wishing we weren’t heading south to race bikes just yet. Would rather enjoy some fresh snow and late year riding.

  21. The trails in central MN are in PERFECT shape right now. I rode my modified (151″ track) 06 Crossfire into work today with plans on doing a little trail riding after work. The trails look like freeways right now! Will really be missing my ’02 ZR CC this afternoon!

  22. great winter up here in Manitoba also, we got more than double the snow fall than last year!
    I rode my sled about 22 miles to work on the river with another foot of fresh
    powder from a snow storm the night before. while people in their cars have to deal with
    rush hour, traffic lights and congestion all i had to watch out for were a
    couple of deer! I love this sport!
    It’s sad to hear about people selling their sleds and gear after a poor winter,
    but i don’t let it bother me and keep looking forward to the next year,
    I hope i don’t ever lose this passion that i have!
    I would like to add that after 7 years of my wife riding her f7 retro i let her
    try out my 12 f800 retro and she didn’t want to get off she loved it so much so now were excited to pick her up 13 f800 ltd. this weekend!
    (good prices this time of year) were going add a pink decal kit too just for her!
    thanks for reading and letting me share my enthusiasm!

  23. Going to hit the trails in N.E. Wisconsin for one last piston burner on Saturday. This is the latest in the season that I can remember riding, other than the very first year that we had a sled. That was a family trip on Easter Sunday in 1971 aboard our 399 Axial Flow Panther!

  24. Riding norhtern MN this weekend.
    Waskish (Upper Red Lake), Fourtown & Baudette areas.
    Trails are great, will even get some MN style backwoods boondocking

  25. I live in northwest Michigan, the Lower Penninsula’s snowbelt. We still have about 20 inches of snow in the woods and were grooming as recently as yesterday.

    I retired last year after 41 years and have just purchased my first new sled in 15 years. I made my purchase now because I now live where I ride and can take full advantage of my snowmobile. I did not purchase a new sled in the past because I put selective upgrades into my old sled that provided the capability to ride with the youngsters for at lease short rides of less than 150 miles.

    My sled was a 1998 SRX, yea, I know, one of those guys. Plenty of power, short on suspension. My upgrades included M10 Suspension with Ohlins and a Camoplast ripsaw 1.25 track. Already had Ohlins on the front so the sled is better balanced than ever. Also put a Team secondary on to improve backshift.

    Even with the mentioned upgrades, the ol’ girl is still a lead sled and you can’t hide the 640-660 pounds of wet weight.

    You can probably guess which sled I bought… but I did order the 137″ track and have upgraded the height to the 1.5 inch camo ripsaw which will be installed prior to delivery.

    The years have made both my SRX and I obsolete in our current configuration. Time to upgrade the iron to keep me from also going obsolete. Many of my contemporaries have quit riding for many different reasons and now volunteer with the local snowmobile club performing trail maintenance, putting signs on the trails in the fall and prepping for winter, and they provide the bulk of the volunteer drivers that groom our trail system every year.

    The choice “not to ride” but to preserve the infrastructure for those that do ride is a choice I’m not ready to relinquish. But I am fortunate that I can still work the trails and have the finances, energy and desire to continue riding.

    I thank the snowmobile industry for all they have done to upgrade the product in ways that make it a joy to hop on the sled and go. I still love the thrill of acceleration, the wind in my face and lateral g force that you pay 60k + for in an automobile and then can’t use it without breaking the law. When I look at the cost of my first snowmobile and the cost of my latest snowmobile it’s amazing how close my pay grew in relation to the cost of sleds. Nearly the same growth rate over the last 40 years.

    Every time I think of taking delivery of the new sled I feel like a kid again, and believe me you can’t put a price on that!

    Thank you John for all you do to bring joy to us old geezers!!!!! Tell the staff at AC we appreciate every thing they do and are just jealous cause we can’t play with them when they go for their test rides.


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