Early cold temperatures and several inches of snow in parts of the state have many snowmobile enthusiasts excited to take their first ride of the season, but most trails will need more snow before grooming can begin. Most of the state’s snowmobile trails are not yet ready for riding, according to the Department of Natural Resources.
Minnesota’s snowmobile trails officially open Dec. 1 each year; and several conditions must be met before trails are open, groomed and ready for travel:
- The ground must be frozen. Where trails cross wetlands, 15 inches of ice is needed to support the weight of the trail groomers.
- Adequate snow cover, about 12 inches, must be on the ground to allow for trail packing and grooming.
- Trails must be cleared of fallen trees, signs put in place and gates opened. Snowmobile club volunteers and DNR staff are currently working on these tasks.
"While the cold air is helping the ground freeze, we still need more snow and thicker ice to access trail segments that cross wet areas for brush clearing and other maintenance," said Grand Rapids area supervisor Guy Lunz. "Crews are out now removing brush from trails where they can, and the pace will pick up as continued cold freezes the low-lying areas." Even after a chilly start to November, ice on most lakes is not safe for travel. The DNR recommends a minimum of 5-7 inches of new clear ice for snowmobiles.
When the trails open, the DNR urges riders to use caution. Early season trails may have trees or debris across them, unfrozen swamps and flowages, rocks or ruts, or standing crops and closed gates. Also, road ditches can have obstacles such as culverts, signposts and rocks.
While snowmobilers wait for the arrival of cold temperatures, now is a good time to make sure registrations are current, snowmobiles are in good operating order, review safety training, and check local trail maps for route changes or new trails.
Registrations for new snowmobiles must be purchased in person at any deputy registrar of motor vehicles or at the DNR License Bureau in St. Paul. Renewals of registrations and out-of-state trail stickers may be done in person, or online at licenses.dnr.state.mn.us/.
Minnesota has over 22,000 miles of groomed snowmobile trails; more than 21,000 miles of them are maintained by local snowmobile club volunteers. Snowmobile trail maintenance costs are partially funded through the combined snowmobile registrations and trail sticker sales, and state gas tax attributed to snowmobile use. Donations and volunteer work by trail clubs make up the remainder of the costs and efforts to operate these trails.
Trail users are always encouraged to call in advance or research online to get local conditions for the area they plan to ride. State trail conditions are posted each Thursday on the DNR website at mndnr.gov/snow_depth/index.html.
Links to snowmobile trail information, state trail maps, regulations, safety training, and more is available on the DNR website at mndnr.gov/snowmobiling.
Local trail conditions are often posted online by local tourism associations, chambers of commerce and volunteer snowmobile clubs. To find the nearest club, visit the Minnesota United Snowmobiler’s Association website at mnsnowmobiler.org.