REGIONAL— Snow, and plenty of it, have provided both challenges and opportunities for winter recreation in the North Country as we head into the peak of the winter season. For many businesses …
REGIONAL— Snow, and plenty of it, have provided both challenges and opportunities for winter recreation in the North Country as we head into the peak of the winter season.
For many businesses in the region, particularly those that cater to visitors, snow is considered “white gold,” which is almost guaranteed to keep cash registers humming. And this year has been a good one, so far. Frequent snow, beginning in early November, has piled up steadily in recent weeks, leaving two feet or more of dense powder on the ground in many areas. That’s well ahead of the normal snowpack for this time of year. In fact, according to the Department of Natural Resources, most of northern and central St. Louis and Lake counties are running in the 95th-99th percentiles for snow depth for this time of year.
“It’s a very good thing,” said Randy Semo, owner and operator of Good Ol’ Days Bar and Grill in Tower. Abundant snow meant snowmobilers were out in force over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, and that was generating plenty of extra traffic at Good Ol’Days, according to Semo.
Joe Majerus, who oversees the state snowmobile trails in the Tower area for the DNR, said traffic has been heavy at times, particularly as trail conditions have gradually improved.
While plenty of snow helps to keep snowmobile trails in good shape, Majerus said it has made for challenges as well. While the area saw days of intense cold in early December, mild temperatures have dominated since then. When combined with the snow, that’s meant area swamps and other wet areas, which were near to overflowing after abundant fall rains, have been very reluctant to freeze.
“We’ve been grooming as much as we can,” said Majerus, “it’s just those swamp areas where we are having a hard time.” DNR trail grooming crews have learned the hard way that pushing the limits in such areas runs the risk of sinking groomers, causing even more problems.
Avoiding those areas does complicate grooming efforts, however, since it often requires a lot more trailering time for groomers and drivers. A portion of the Arrowhead Trail through the Lost Lake Swamp as well as the Lehtinen Creek area south of Cook are still too soft for groomers, according to Majerus. While those areas are still passable for snowmobilers, Majerus warns that conditions tend to be rough.
It’s not clear when those conditions might improve, since the extended forecast includes no sign of the minus-30 or colder temperatures that are necessary to stiffen swamps.
Elsewhere, trail conditions have benefitted from all the snow. With the most recent round of grooming, trail conditions are now rated as fair-to-good in most of the area.
While colder weather might be needed to improve snowmobile trails, the conditions for folks who prefer silent sports, like cross-country skiing or snowshoeing, couldn’t be much better. “We’ve had really nice snow conditions,” said Mary Shedd, president of the Wagoner Trails Club, which recently restored the longtime ski trails located just south of Tower along Hwy. 135. “Tower avoided any significant thaw and the sleet that fell elsewhere, so the snow is light and fluffy and easy to ski,” said Shedd. The club has new grooming equipment to set track. That, combined with a noticeable increase in the number of skiers utilizing the trails, has left the trails in good-to-excellent condition in recent days.
Popular ski trails at Bear Head Lake State Park are also rated in very good condition while trails for both classical and skate skiing at Hidden Valley in Ely, are also in great condition.
The snow conditions have also been excellent for activities like snowshoeing, which has become increasingly popular. Giants Ridge, near Biwabik, maintains groomed snowshoe trails, but most snowshoe trails are simply created by users. If you’re looking for a place to give snowshoeing a try, Bear Head State Park offers snowshoe rentals at the main office for $6 a pair.