DULUTH -- While recent snows in the Northland have many snowmobile enthusiasts excited to get out and ride, many trails still don’t have enough snow to cover rocks and other obstacles while some trails cross wetlands too soft to groom or lakes and rivers not yet frozen enough to support heavy grooming machines.

Minnesota's 23,000 miles of snowmobile trails officially open Dec. 1 each year. But unusually warm weather, rainstorms and a lack of heavy snow this month have combined to make many trails still unusable even as Christmas arrives, according to the state's Department of Natural Resources. Recent wind and ice storms have also brought down trees across some trails.

Riders can expect to find uneven conditions and should check local trail reports before venturing out. The DNR reminds riders to be patient, noting:

  • The ground must be frozen hard before grooming can begin in earnest. Where trails cross water or 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 have to be put in place and gates need to be opened. Snowmobile club volunteers and DNR staff are working on these tasks.

“It’s a big job for local volunteers and DNR staff to get the trail system up and running each year, especially with varying weather conditions,” Paul Purman, state trails and snowmobile program consultant, said in a statement. “Unseasonable thunderstorms last week eroded the snowpack in many areas of the state, setting back our trail preparations.”

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Purman said we need more snow and more volunteers to join local snowmobile clubs, which do most of the trail grooming across the state.

The DNR notes that now is a good time to make sure registration is current; confirm that snowmobiles are in good operating order; review safety training; and check local trail maps for route changes or new trails.

Registrations for new snowmobiles may be purchased in person at any deputy registrar of motor vehicles or at the DNR License Center in St. Paul. Registration renewals and out-of-state trail stickers may be purchased in person or at mndnr.gov/licenses.

Local trail conditions are often posted online by local tourism associations, chambers of commerce and volunteer snowmobile clubs. Contacts for DNR-funded, locally managed trails can be found at dnr.state.mn.us/snowmobiling/index.html.

Local snowmobile clubs welcome volunteers to assist with annual trail preparations like removing brush and fallen trees, holding snowmobile safety classes, and stocking trailside shelters with firewood. To find the nearest club, visit the Minnesota United Snowmobilers Association website at mnsnowmobiler.org.