Making Tracks? Not Yet, Snowmobilers

It wasn’t so much a plea as it was a fact.

But if it were a plea, a wish by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources – and snowmobilers across the state – it was answered, quickly and with authority.

On Monday morning, a DNR news release carried the headline “Snowmobile trails open Dec. 1; more snow is needed.”

A day later, Dec. 1, more snow still is needed for many state trails to truly be snowmobile worthy. But snow that started in parts of the state soon after that DNR release was released and continued overnight Monday – and isn’t expected to relent until late Tuesday – has at least got us thinking about the snowmobile season.

Snowmobile trails “open” Dec. 1 every year, but according to the DNR, trails won’t officially open until:

  • The ground is frozen to allow for crossing wet areas.
  • Adequate snow cover, about 12 inches, must be on the ground to allow for packing and grooming of trails.
  • Trails must be cleared of fallen trees, signs must be put in place and gates opened. Snowmobile club volunteers and DNR staff currently are working on these details, according to the state agency.

When the falling snow does clear – supposedly by late Tuesday in most parts of the state – the first major snow event of the season is expected to leave up to a foot of snow in the southern part of the state, with about half that amount or less here in central Minnesota and points north.

Still, this early, “surprise” snowfall could be more bad than good for the state’s lakes and waterways and, ultimately, snowmobilers who travel hardwater – in lakes areas such as central Minnesota and up north at, say, Lake of the Woods, that’s a big part of the snowmobile scene.

“The lack of early snow can be beneficial to building good ice conditions,” Bob Moore, Grand Rapids DNR area supervisor, said before this snowstorm.

The DNR recommends a minimum of 5 inches of new, clear ice for snowmobiles. So after this storm, with high temperatures expected in the high 30s and mid- to low 40s for the next 10 days in the Twin Cities – where snow levels will be among the highest – there likely won’t be enough good ice to snowmobile for some time. The snow also could start disappearing with those temps, but what sticks around will insulate what ice is out there, also not good for the building of quality ice.

So, after this winter tease, what are snowmobilers to do?

The same thing many were doing before the storm – dream of wintery weather in the heart of winter.

And prep.

The DNR reminds snowmobilers to make sure that combined registration and trail stickers are current and that their snowmobiles are in good working order, and to review safety training and check local trail maps for any route changes or new trails.

The DNR added that registration and trail stickers for new snowmobiles must be purchased in person at deputy registrars or motor vehicle departments or at the DNR License Bureau in St. Paul. Renewals of registrations and trail stickers may be done in person, or online at

Minnesota has more than 22,000 miles of groomed snowmobile trails – more than 21,000 miles maintained by local snowmobile club volunteers, the DNR continued. Snowmobile trail maintenance costs are partially funded through combined snowmobile registrations and trail sticker sales and the 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 the trails.

When trails finally do open, the DNR urges riders to use caution – be aware of trees and other debris on the trails, unfrozen areas, rocks or ruts, standing crops and closed gates. And in ditches, obstacles could include culverts, signposts and rocks.

The DNR encourages trail users to call in advance or research online to get local conditions for the areas they plan to ride. During the season, state trail conditions are posted each Thursday on the DNR website at Links to snowmobile trail information, state trail maps, regulations, safety training and more is available at

Local trail conditions often are posted online by local tourism and chamber of commerce groups and volunteer snowmobile clubs. To find the nearest club, visit the Minnesota United Snowmobiler’s Association website at

And let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

After the freeze, of course.

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