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Snow forecast for Thursday would be a big boost for trails

Snowmobile trails need more snow before groomers can improve conditions.

Snowmobile trails across the Northland are reported in rough shape due to a lack of snow and above-freezing temperatures on some recent days. But some snow is expected to fall Thursday across parts of the Northland. (News Tribune / file)

The first significant snowfall of 2021 is expected to reach the Northland on Thursday with the National Weather Service in Duluth calling for several inches to fall across much of Northeastern Minnesota.

While not a major snowstorm the snow event would be the first snow of more than a half-inch in Duluth since 6 inches fell Dec. 29-30.

While Duluth has seen an above-normal 48 inches of snow so far for the season, much of that fell in October and November and later melted away. The National Weather Service in Duluth is officially reporting just 7 inches remaining on the ground as of Tuesday.

The lack of snow in recent weeks has been extremely tough on snowmobilers who are encountering grass, rocks and sticks on trails with a minimum of snow cover after heavy use. January average daily temperatures in Duluth have been nearly 12 degrees above normal so far and several days of above-freezing high temperatures have helped deteriorate trail conditions even more.

Reports from across the Northland in recent days warned of rough conditions on trails across northern Minnesota and northern Wisconsin. Trail groomers on the Minnesota North Shore State Trail reported snowmobilers should “use caution as the trail is still rough in areas. Watch out for rocks, brush, bumps and dirt patches in areas.” The North Shore State Trail will host much of the 2021 John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon starting Jan. 31.


Some trails are being packed, but groomers are asking for patience until significantly more snow falls before trail conditions improve.

Minnesota Conservation Officer Troy Fondie of Orr reported Monday that “snowmobile activity remains minimal due to lack of snow. Trails continue to deteriorate due to above-average temperatures and lack of snow. Trails continue to show exposed dirt, grass, and rocks with another week of above-average temperatures forecast.”

Conservation officer Matt Frericks of Virginia reported that “slush continues to be a major factor in accessing lakes and … area snowmobile trails are in extremely poor shape and are barely covered in snow,” while Officer Duke Broughten, of Aurora, reports “warmer weather and lack of snow has left slush on area lakes and snowmobile trails in rough shape.”

Officer Mary Manning in Cook County reported trails in ”rough shape,” while Anthony Bermel in Babbitt said “snowmobile trails need more snow in order for conditions to be good in most locations.”

Officer Taylor Hochstein in Hill City reported “area snowmobile clubs have begun to groom some of the trails but report that the snow base is very thin in most areas and that the trails are still very rough.”

Officer Jake Willis in Brookston said “snowmobile trails are still in desperate need of more snow,’’ while Officer Chelsey Best, of Crosslake, said local snowmobile trails “have been ridden down to dirt and more snow is needed to improve conditions.”

According to Travel Wisconsin, snowmobile trail conditions aren't much better in northern Wisconsin, where Douglas and Bayfield counties report poor to fair trail conditions and Ashland County reports trails closed due to lack of snow and unfrozen swamps. Hurley area trails are reported in fair to good condition.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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