BEMIDJI -- While poor ice conditions on lakes have anglers feeling the effects of late December’s blizzard in the upper half of the state, snowmobilers are taking advantage of its powdery remnants by cruising along quality trails winding throughout northern Minnesota -- reporting back that it may be the best season they’ve seen in years.

“For this time of year, the snow out there is great,” said Rod Seibel, administrator of North Country Snowmobile Club. “Right now, with the snow we’ve got, the trails are starting to shape up pretty good for everybody.”

Seibel also added that northwestern Beltrami and Hubbard counties are probably some of the better areas right now for snowmobiling.

Recently, the Minnesota United Snowmobilers Association and Minnesota Snowmobile Education and Advancement Fund held their 12th annual Veterans Appreciation Snowmobile Ride in Two Harbors, Minn.

Nancy Hanson, the association’s business coordinator, described the event as “amazing” because the “trails were awesome” in the northeast part of the state.

“The conditions up north are much better than in the central and south,” Hanson said. “But this is the best year for snow conditions that we’ve had across the state for a really long time, so it’s very good.”

Although the heavy snow accumulation received right before New Year's benefited the quality of trails in the upper region, Seibel said it was the early snow from the first few days of December that created first-rate conditions for the sport.

By state law, trails open on Dec. 1 and close on April 1. But Seibel said that snowmobilers in the state typically don’t start riding until around the beginning of January due to the lack of snow.

There are over 22,000 miles of groomed snowmobile trails, and over 21,000 miles are maintained by local snowmobile club volunteers, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

However, once that early snow had fallen last month, groomers were eager to get out on trails and get a base started.

“This (early snow) is going to extend the season out -- provided we don’t close the trails until late March or April 1 like we’re supposed to -- a month compared to what we normally get,” Seibel said.

But many snowmobilers are also discovering that the state’s early snow and some storms aren’t exactly without fault for the wintertime recreation.

Along with anglers, snowmobilers statewide are finding that the heavy snow accumulation is pushing the water from lakes and swamps on top of the ice, causing a slushy condition that can pose a threat to those who encounter it.

“That’s a big issue -- not just us but everywhere,” Seibel said. “What’s happening’s really hard to cross a lot of the sloughs. The sleds try going across it and they’re breaking through. Groomers can’t go across it because they break through. That’s a safety concern out there.”

In the southern part of the state and around the Twin Cities, fluctuating warmer temperatures have been a nuisance for snowmobiling as well.

Hanson said that that portion of the state received snow before anything froze, which caused trail grooming to take longer. On top of that, they’re also still waiting for their swamps to freeze.

“With our metro trails, we get a lot of traffic so the snow wears out, and the warmer temperatures that we’ve had makes it melt,” Hanson said. “There’s snow everywhere, so you can find places to ride, but it’s not all beautiful because of the warm weather.”

In the north, Seibel said it’s been about five years since he’s seen a snowmobiling season this favorable, but he said persistent cold weather and a bit more snow are key for trails to remain in good condition for the remainder of the season.

He hopes the cold weather will bring a deep freeze to the bothersome lakes and swamps and the new snow in the forecast will replace what is worn out on trails.

“More snow is not going to make any snowmobiler unhappy. It’s just going to make for better trails all the time,” Seibel said. “And right now...if we get some snow and the really warm weather stays away, we’re going to have probably the best snowmobiling year that we’ve had.”

Planning on snowmobiling this season? Consider these safety tips from the Minnesota DNR before heading out:

  • Stay on marked trails. Riders who stay on groomed trails are less likely to strike an obstacle or trespass onto private property. In parts of the state, wet conditions where trails go through low areas or across lakes mean trails aren’t yet groomed.

  • Leave alcoholic beverages at home. Drinking and riding is one of two main factors in crashes and plays a role in about 60% of those that are fatal.

  • Watch the speed. Going too fast is the other main factor in crashes. Many serious and fatal crashes occur when a speeding snowmobiler loses control or strikes an object.

  • Be careful on the ice. There must be at least 5 to 7 inches of new, clear ice to support the weight of a snowmobile and rider.

  • Take a snowmobile safety course. It’s required of anyone born after 1976 and recommended for everyone. People with snowmobile safety certification are less likely to be involved in serious or fatal crashes.