Lack of Snow Leaving Many Northland Snowmobile Trails in Poor Condition

According to the Minnesota DNR, many of the trails around Duluth are labeled "poor."

DULUTH, Minn.- It would seem Mother Nature is not keeping up with the pandemic-fueled demand to get outside and try new winter activities, as a winter lacking in snow has made an ugly scene and poor conditions on Northland ski and snowmobile trails.

“We’ve been a little short on snow,” said Rob Waksdahl, Groomer Operator with the Duluth Drift Toppers.

For the Drift Toppers, volunteer trail groomers who snowmobile themselves, local trail conditions have been less than stellar with the warm, snow-less weather.

“We’re currently unable to groom these trails as they are today until we got some snow on top of it,” Waksdahl said. “Probably need another 6-10 and it’d be really nice.”

According to Waksdahl, since December his crews have only been able to groom the Duluth City Trail once, haven’t been out at all on the CJ Ramstad/North Shore Trail, and have only been down the Rice Lake Trail twice.

And with those local routes unable to be groomed, the ride can be tough on your sled.

“They’re gonna be a little bumpier or it’s gonna be a bit harder on your equipment, gonna have some rocks, maybe some dirt in the corners…it can be icier like this for sure,” said the Groomer Operator.

While it is early in the season, less snowmobilers means less traffic for some already COVID-impacted local businesses.

“So a lot of the businesses, bars and restaurants and taverns, that’s a good destination, a lot of them are off the snowmobile trails, people like to ride to somewhere they can go inside, have a meal and warm up,” Waksdahl said, “and I don’t know tha tthe snowmobile business has ben as strong as they normally have either.”

Meanwhile, managers at one area snowmobile seller, Duluth Lawn and Sport, said sales have been great this year. “I think right now with the COVID a lot of us are stuck at home so now it’s any, any way to get out and have fun,” said Chris Gassert.

But according to Gassert, a decent amount of customers aren’t taking those new snowmobiles to hit local powder.

“I personally was up on the North shore out of Grand Marais on the Gunflint Trail, trails were solid, a lot of customers reporting down by Solon,” he said. “A little bit of drive time compared to when we’re used to just hopping out the front door and going.”

“But snow’s on the way,” said Grassert with a grin.

From snowmobiling to skiing, public trails have taken a hit this season. But the slopes are smooth for private trails.

“Our trails have been excellent to outstanding,” said John Graham.

Graham, Manager at the Snowflake Nordic Ski Center on Rice Lake Road, said he’s seen memberships go up by 25 percent this season.

We’ve been getting a lot of skiers coming up from the cities, we’ve had folks come up from as far away as Madison and Chicago for weekends to ski,” he said.

Graham said unlike the public trails, the location of the Snowflake up on the hill, and the ability to groom the private trails on his own time are a big help. “The public trails are a gem for Duluth and I love skiing them.”

“Since most of the public trails seem to be closer to the lake, that few degrees in temperature difference between what we have to work with is good for me — and sometimes hurts them,” he said.

While things look a little rough now, the Drift Toppers say the winter’s still young.

“February is often times the best time ride anyway the days get a little longer the temps get a little warmer, our best months of riding is a month away,” said Waksdahl.

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