With two major snowstorms hitting the Northwoods over the last week, snowmobilers are no doubt chomping at the bit to fire up their sleds and hit the trails.
They do, however, have to pump the breaks a bit in Vilas and Oneida County, as the trail systems there are still closed.
But in Iron County, the trails opened yesterday at 8 a.m.
“We received in the past week, depending where in the county, between 35 and 40 inches throughout the entire county,” Iron County trail coordinator Tara Krall said. “This snow blanketed the whole county, so we’re in good shape right now.”
Since the snow fell, the White Thunder Riders and the Mercer Sno Goers, along with the Iron County Forestry Department, have been out packing the Iron County trails.
“Both clubs have been out rolling,” Krall said on Tuesday. “They figured by tomorrow (Wednesday) evening everything will have been at least packed.”
In Vilas County, due to the muzzleloader deer season, and a subsequent antlerless deer gun hunt, the trails are closed until at least Dec. 15, if the weather cooperates.
Trails are also currently closed in Oneida County.
Despite the fact that the trails are now full of snow, in some parts, conditions underneath all that weight are not yet ideal for riding.
“We got a lot of snow. That’s good,” Vilas County Parks and Recreation administrator Dale Mayo said. “But it put a lot of weight on the swamps out there that were just freezing over and now we’ve got water coming up. I imagine we’re going to have the same thing out on the lakes. So right now the clubs are going out there and they’ve got to pack the snow. Get the air out of it. To allow that to freeze underneath there. Otherwise it just insulates everything.”
Because of the questionable status of the ice, Mayo recommended people stay off the lakes.
“We’d rather people didn’t cross any lakes,” he said, adding that once the ice is safe a marked trail will be established.
In addition to sketchy ice, there are also downed trees on the trails as a result of all the wet, heavy snow brought on by the recent storms.
Out working on the trails in Oneida County are the clubs of the Oneida County Snowmobile Council. In Vilas County, they are maintained by the Vilas County Snowmobile Alliance.
Clubs are contracted by their counties to maintain the state funded trails in the system. Additionally, the clubs also maintain club trails which they support on their own through map ads and various fund raisers.
One of those clubs is the Cross Country Cruisers snowmobile club of the Minocqua-Woodruff-Arbor Vitae area. Their president, Dave Assmann, said the club has already begun the packing process on the trails.
“We’re going to start panning to get them packed down so that when the time comes to open, they’ll be nice and packed and smooth,” he said.
Assmann said the huge snow drifts will be no problem for the Cross Country Cruiser’s equipment.
“We have a roller and our groomer drags that will knock them down,” he explained.
Once the trails have a solid, thoroughly frozen base and they open up for snowmobile traffic, the Cross Country Cruisers maintain them with a very diligent grooming schedule.
“Once the trails open, then we’ll be grooming every night,” Assmann said.
Such hard work, by volunteer clubs, is a huge reason the area’s trail systems have such a fantastic reputation for good riding.
The breathtaking beauty, however, is courtesy of the Northwoods, and thousands travel here every winter to experience it.
“Snowmobiling is probably the most significant impact to the winter tourism economy up here,” Mayo said. “The whole Vilas County area does a real good job of marketing. We’ve got excellent trails. We’ve got a lot of the amenities people are looking for out there, including 24-hour gas and motels and restaurants.”
New to the Vilas County trail system this year is a bridge over the Wisconsin river in the Conover area, as a well a boardwalk in the Boulder Junction area.
“Those are two big improvements that we’ve made to our trail system,” Mayo said.
It is yet undetermined when the trails will open in Vilas County and Oneida County, but a forthcoming public announcement will be made when they’re ready to ride.
Jacob Friede may be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]