Minnesota Snowmobile Trails Not Yet Ready for Riding; Ice Not Safe

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Minnesota Snowmobile Trails Not Yet Ready for Riding; Ice Not SafeEven though the official start of the Minnesota snowmobile season was Dec. 1, several conditions must be met before trails are legally open for travel, according to Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Northeast Regional Trails and Waterways manager Les Ollila.

Snowmobile clubs and trail crews are out working on the trails now, but it could be a few weeks before the trails will be ready.

Those conditions include:

  • trails must be cleared of dead falls, signs need to be in place and the gates need to be opened
  • landowner permits allowing trails on their land must be in place
  • the ground must be frozen allowing for crossings in wet areas; and, even though there have been cold days and many northeastern Minnesota lakes have ice, the ice is not yet thick enough to support snowmobiles or even walking in most cases; the DNR recommends five inches of new clear ice for snowmobiles
  • trails must have adequate snow cover for grooming, about 12 inches of snow is considered adequate, since it packs down to an inch or two.

Many snowmobile trails cross private land – landowners give permission for snowmobile use on those trails beginning Dec. 1. That permission is for snowmobiles only and other uses are trespasses, said Lt. Dave Olsen, DNR Enforcement, Grand Rapids.

“We also caution snowmobile riders about riding on lakes,” Olsen said. “Please stay off of area lakes until there is at least five inches of new, clear ice. Without enough snow on the trails, many riders will be tempted to ride on area lakes. But they are not yet safe for snowmobiles or ATVs.”

Olsen reminds riders to follow the snowmobile safety requirements when riding along public road rights-of-way. “It is illegal to ride on the inside slope, shoulder, and roadway of state or county roads.”

When the trails do open, people should watch for hazards, especially if they are on unfamiliar ground, said Ollila. Early season trails may have trees fallen across trails, unfrozen areas, rocks or ruts, or closed gates. Also, road ditches are not always safe, watch for hidden protrusions under grass and snow, such as culverts, signposts, and rocks.

Minnesota has more than 20,000 miles of groomed snowmobile trails. Snowmobile trail maintenance costs are partially funded through snowmobile registrations, trail pass sales, and the un-refunded gas tax attributed to snowmobile use. Donations, fundraisers, and volunteer work by trail clubs make up the remainder of the costs and efforts to operate these trails. Club volunteers do the vast majority of the maintenance. Trail clubs always need more help. They welcome new members to help keep trails open and join in other club activities. Trail users should call ahead, suggested Ollila.

Snowmobilers can also check state trails conditions on the DNR Web site at www.mndnr.gov or by calling 888-MINNDNR (646-6367).

Trail information and local contacts are on the DNR Web site under maps and contacts and are also on the back of the Minnesota DNR Snowmobile Trails maps which show the snowmobile trails in each of four quadrants of the state (NW, NE, SW, SE). The maps are also on the DNR Web site.