A weekend snowmobile adventure

It’s almost difficult to comprehend, given the lack of snow in the Grand Forks area that has brought snowmobiling and other winter recreation to a screeching halt, but some very good snow conditions remain just a couple of hours to the northeast.

A friend and I found that out for ourselves over the weekend when we logged upwards of 80 miles on grant-in-aid snowmobile trails in the Roseau, Minn., area. Despite temperatures that soared into the high 30s Saturday, we found an abundance of snow throughout our ride.

A fairly isolated snowstorm had dumped 5 to 6 inches of snow on the region early last week, and the snow in the woods was knee deep in many places.

Here are some photos from our ride:

Deero on the trail

A deer is faintly visible Saturday in the center of a groomed grant-in-aid trail along the Manitoba-Minnesota border northwest of Roseau, Minn. (Brad Dokken photo)

Jason on the trail

Trail conditions were favorable Saturday throughout the course of a ride on a groomed snowmobile trail system north of Roseau, Minn. (Brad Dokken photo)

Snow on the skis

Heavy snow covers the skis of a snowmobile. (Brad Dokken photo)

Trail bridge

A bridge constructed across a swampy stream on a groomed snowmobile trail north of Roseau, Minn., eased crossing, alleviating any risk of encountering unsafe ice. (Brad Dokken)

Given the conditions, I was surprised by the lack of traffic we encountered on the trails. We met only five other snowmobiles in two days of riding, and one of the groups, I found out later, was a high school friend, his son and a friend of theirs, all from Roseau. When we met them on the trail along state Highway 310 north of Roseau, they were on the homestretch of a 172-mile ride that took them from Roseau to Springsteel north of Warroad, Minn., on Lake of the Woods and then north across the big lake to a land trail near Stony Point and onward to Fort St. Charles on the Northwest Angle.

They’d left Roseau about 10 a.m. and had nearly finished their ride when we met them some 6 hours later.

I register my snowmobile in Minnesota, so a trail permit is included in the price of a three-year registration, which costs $78.50, but my snowmobiling partner from Grand Forks registers his snowmobile in North Dakota and had to purchase a permit to ride the grant-in-aid trails.

The permit, which costs $36 annually, is available at Minnesota motor vehicle offices or through Department of Natural Resources electronic licensing outlets.

MN snow conditions

Here’s a look at snow conditions across Minnesota as of last Thursday. (Minnesota DNR map)

The trails were in great shape, groomed in places and well marked throughout, so the price of the annual permit was money well spent. Our ride took us through tamarack and cedar swamps and along and across swampy creeks that remained open, in places. Bridges built along parts of the trail system as part of the grant funding the local snowmobile club receives alleviated the risk of crossing potentially unsafe ice.

We also saw several deer, which found the well-packed trails to their liking. All signs point to a winter that should help deer numbers recover across the region.

Saturday’s high flirted with 40 degrees in the border country, and the snow was pretty sticky. That wasn’t an issue on the groomed trails, but the machines definitely had to work harder to get through the soft snow in the places we had to drive off trail to reach the trail system.

By Sunday, the temperature had dropped 20 degrees and the snow conditions had firmed up nicely. The brown landscape that greeted us as we returned to Grand Forks late Sunday afternoon was a striking contrast to the conditions we’d enjoyed barely 2 hours away.

Looking at the extended weather forecast, the temperature in the areas we rode isn’t supposed to get above freezing this week, so riding opportunities should remain at least through the weekend. It’s still seeming like an early spring, though, so anyone with a snowmobile collecting dust would be well-advised to head north and enjoy the conditions while they last.

You’ll find more information about snow and trail conditions in Minnesota here.

 

Ice fishing finally getting started on Lake of the Woods

Finally.

In a single word, that probably sums up the mindset of resort owners along the south shore of Lake of the Woods, who are starting their winter fishing season.

Finally.

A Ballard's Resort employee pulls a house onto Lake of the Woods on Monday morning. (Ballard's Resort photo)

A Ballard’s Resort employee pulls a house onto Lake of the Woods on Monday morning. (Ballard’s Resort photo)

I messaged with Gary Moeller of Ballard’s Resort this morning, and he said resort crews are pulling houses onto the ice and getting them set up today and Tuesday and will begin fishing Wednesday.

That’s the latest start on record for the resort, Moeller said. The latest start before this year was Dec. 26, some 25 or so years ago. Moeller said the area north of Pine Island where Ballard’s begins it winter season had 8 inches to 9 inches of ice Monday morning.

Rental fish houses are lined up in front of camp and ready to be pulled onto the ice for the season at Walsh's Bay Store Camp on Oak Island of Lake of the Woods. (Bay Store Camp photo)

Rental fish houses are lined up in front of camp and ready to be pulled onto the ice for the season at Walsh’s Bay Store Camp on Oak Island of Lake of the Woods. (Bay Store Camp photo)

Up at the Northwest Angle, Frank Walsh of Bay Store Camp on Oak Island this morning said he had all of his ice trails marked and hopes to be up and running for the season in the next three days or so. The ice on the trails near Oak Island was 8 inches plus, he said, with about 6 inches off to the side of the trail. The main lake south of Oak, where the bulk of winter fishing in that area occurs, had 5 to 8 inches of ice, Walsh said; locals were flooding an area of thinner ice on the east side of Oak that should be good in a few days, he said.

Some of the resorts in the Northwest Angle are up and running already, and early fishing reports have been favorable.

Fortunately, the heavy snow that’s forecast to hit the Twin Cities and points south today doesn’t extend as far north as Lake of the Woods or other large northern Minnesota lakes because the insulating blanket of white stuff is the last thing the ice needs right now. Snow also weighs down the ice, forcing water up through cracks and creating pockets of slush that can make getting around downright miserable.

At the same time, the subzero temperatures that arrived in the border country none too soon appear to be gone, at least for the next few days. According to the National Weather Service, highs in the mid to high teens are forecast throughout the week, and the only subzero low on the horizon is Wednesday night, when the mercury is expected to dip to 1 below zero.

Given the forecast, I’d look for ice conditions to gradually improve throughout the next week. In the meantime, snowmobiles or ATVs will be the safest modes of travel for do-it-yourself anglers. As always, check with area resorts and bait shops for the most up-to-date conditions, whether your destination is Lake of the Woods, Devils Lake or anywhere else.

Changing seasons

Barely a dusting of snow covers the ground here in Grand Forks, but winter seems to have arrived in full force just a couple of hours away.

I made a trek to the getaway in northwest Minnesota over the weekend and was surprised at the amount of snow I encountered. There seems to be a line that begins somewhere west of Karlstad, Minn., and from that point east, the ground was covered with at least 3 inches of snow on the level — that’s just a rough guess; there could be more — everywhere except plowed fields.

Snow falls Sunday afternoon as ice forms along the shoreline of a northwest Minnesota river. (Brad Dokken photo)

Snow falls Sunday afternoon as ice forms along the shoreline of a northwest Minnesota river. (Brad Dokken photo)

Saturday afternoon, friend and frequent fishing partner Brad Durick of Grand Forks and his 5-year-old son, Braden, joined me for an overnight stay. There was nothing particular on the agenda except a big campfire, but with the amount of snow on the ground, I couldn’t resist the temptation to fire up the snowmobile and take it for a spin.

Braden and I made a couple of laps around a snow-covered field, and I had to laugh when we pulled back into the yard, and Braden exclaimed, “That was the best ride of my life!”

This kid obviously is easy to please.

The mercury again has risen back above freezing — at least during the day — but the abrupt cooldown that took place last week has resulted in a drastic change to the countryside, even in areas where snow hasn’t fallen. Wetlands are frozen, ice is forming along the edges of rivers across the region and it won’t be long, at this rate, before anglers begin taking the first tentative steps on the hard water of smaller lakes.

Anglers who are especially brave may have tried walking out in a few places already, though it’s not something I would recommend.

Nature’s calendar is behind schedule compared with last year, when cold temperatures arrived unusually early. Last year, we ventured onto frozen Lake Laretta near Michigan, N.D., before Thanksgiving and found 10 inches of solid ice.

This year, I don’t anticipate getting out on the ice for at least another week, and that’s fine by me.

I’m not a big fan of winter driving, especially when it means traveling icy roads, but I do hope this winter brings more snow than last year. If we’re going to have winter — and that’s inevitable here in the Northland — we might as well have enough snow to enjoy snowmobiling, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing, which is one of my favorite forms of winter exercise.

Despite its early arrival, last winter was a disappointment for everything but ice fishing.

This year’s extended fall no doubt was a treat, but I’m ready for winter. About as ready as I can be, at least.