Trails Ready for Snow Sports?

     While the cross-country ski trails may be open snowmobile trails are not…

Ice not safe, snowmobile trails not yet ready for riding

(Released December 6, 2010)


Officials from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) are reminding snowmobilers and others to stay off lakes because the ice is not safe yet.

According to the DNR, there have already been several ice rescues involving snowmobiles. Also, one fatality occurred when a man on foot broke through thin ice on Lake Washington in Blue Earth County.

“We’re telling snowmobilers and others to please stay off of lakes until there is at least five inches of new, clear ice,” said Lt. Dave Olsen, DNR Enforcement, Grand Rapids “Early season riders are often tempted to ride on lakes. But they are not yet safe for snowmobiles, ATVs, or even walking, in most cases.”

And even though there is snow, many trails are not yet ready for riding, according to DNR Northeast Parks and Trails Operations Manager Scott Kelling.

Snowmobile clubs and trail crews are out working on the trails now, but it could be some time before all the trails are ready. When the trails do open, people should continue to watch for hazards, especially if they are on unfamiliar ground.

“It takes at least a couple of passes with the groomer tractors to get trails into mid-season form,” said Kelling. “On their early runs, groomer operators often encounter areas that are too wet or not frozen enough to safely get through. Some stretches simply need more time and cold weather before they can be groomed.”

Several conditions must be met before trails are ready and legally open for travel:

  • Trails must be cleared of dead falls, signs need to be in place and gates need to be opened.
  • Bridges need to be checked and needed repairs made. Many trails and bridges were affected by heavy rains last summer. Snowmobile club volunteers and DNR crews are finishing repairs.
  • The ground must be frozen enough to allow crossing of wet areas.
  • Trails must have adequate snow cover for grooming. Up to 12 inches of snow can pack down to a base of only an inch or two.

Many snowmobile trails cross private land. Generally, landowner permission for snowmobile use on those trails began Dec. 1 and extends through March. That permission is for snowmobiles only and other uses are trespasses, according to the DNR.

Also, riders must follow the snowmobile safety requirements when riding along public road rights-of-way. For example, it is illegal to ride on the inside slope, shoulder, and roadway of state or county roads.

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 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 most of the maintenance. Trail clubs always need more help and welcome new members to help keep trails open and join in other club activities.

Snowmobilers can check state trail conditions, maps and regulations on the DNR website or by calling 651-296-6157 or toll-free 888-646-6367. Trail conditions are updated every Thursday throughout the season.

Trail information and local contacts are also listed on the back of DNR Snowmobile Trail maps for each quadrant of the state (NW, NE, SW, SE). Printed maps are available at local DNR offices and also can be ordered, printed or viewed from the DNR website.