Exploring the Keweenaw's scenic vistas and picturesque trails by snowmobile is exciting. But what does it take to maintain those pristine Keweenaw trails? We sat down with Keweenaw Snowmobile Club President, Ryan LaPorte, to learn more about his experience as a groomer and what draws snowmobilers to the Keweenaw every winter.
Snowmobiling in the Keweenaw
Q: What is your favorite Keweenaw snowmobiling memory?
My favorite Keweenaw snowmobile memory has to be the first time riding up Brockway Mountain. The anticipation as you turn off the railroad grade, go through the twist and turns out to Brockway Mountain Drive, and the climb to the top for one of the best views of the Keweenaw and Lake Superior.
Q: How does snow quality and quantity play a role in trail conditions? What makes the Keweenaw trail system great for riding?
We need about 18-24” of snow to start grooming- this protects both the riders and the grooming equipment- for about every 12” of snow compresses to about 1” of base. We need to ensure that we don’t pull the rocks that make up the trails in many areas up into the snow. Riders throwing rocks into their sleds could cause damage and could be thrown into other riders. The more snow the better for riding and grooming. It gives the groomers more snow to work with to build “the superhighways of the north”. Our daily fresh snowfall gives new snow for the groomers to work with to build base and allow riders to ride even in warmups or late into the season. Our large network of trails- 207miles for this season makes this an ideal area for riders and our trail system offers world class views that are only possible via snowmobile.
Q: Why do you enjoy snowmobiling?
There is a thrill of being behind the bars of a snowmobile- the quietness of the snow, the twisting winding trails, the spectacular views, and the camaraderie of riding with friends. The scenery is great, the views are different each time, but always breathtaking. Stopping for a break at a restaurant or bar to warm up and have a bite to eat is a great way to break up the day.
Brockway Mountain Trail is a favorite among snowmobile enthusiasts because of its incredible views of the Keweenaw and Lake Superior. It's also a great place to catch the sunset.
Tips for First Time Riders
Q: What tips would you give to someone who has never snowmobiled before?
Take your time and enjoy the ride. Today’s sleds have a lot of power and can get you into trouble very quickly. Ride with someone else and stay to the ride side of the trail. *Read these trail etiquette tips to stay on a groomer-operator's good side.
Q: How can a new rider get started?
Get started by renting a sled- there are lots of rental options in the area. Get gear that is meant for snowmobiling- it makes a difference in being warm the whole trip. Take a snowmobile safety class from the state- there are online and in-person options.
Q: What do first-time riders need to know?
Ride within your comfort zone, expect a sled or groomer around every corner, and have fun!
Q: Why is it necessary to groom Keweenaw snowmobile trails?
It’s necessary to groom the trails for multiple reasons-
To keep them smooth- removes the bumps that get created by riders when they take off hard, stop hard,
Keep the trails safe and passable for riders- wind can cause severe drifting with the large snowfall we get. Allows equipment to remove down trees, push large snow piles,
Remove the imperfections (bumps, dips, water holes, etc) that may exist in the trail surface below the snow.
Grooming is necessary to keep trails passable for riders, especially after big storms. | Photo provided by Keweenaw Snowmobile Club
Q: When and how often does grooming take place?
Grooming takes place daily once the snow cooperates and continues until spring melt or March 31st whichever comes first. We groom when the traffic is lightest- late at night and early morning to try to give the trails time to setup solid.
Groomers head out late in the evening or early in the morning when trail traffic is the lightest. | Photo provided by Keweenaw Snowmobile Club
Q: How do weather conditions impact grooming?
Grooming is most effective from 30 degrees to 0 degrees. When its too warm the snow will ball up and will not process through the drag well, when its too cold the snow crystallize and not form into a nice trail surface.
Q: How can riders track grooming progress or find snowmobile trail condition updates?
Trail riders can get the most up to date information about grooming by following the club on Facebook- Keweenaw Snowmobile Club, and can download the Groomer Tracker App to see where the groomers have been or are at currently. There is a $10 for the app, but $5 comes back to the club at the end of the season. *Additionally, Visit Keweenaw reports Snow & Trail Conditions Mondays-Fridays here.*
Q: How can readers support trail grooming services?
Readers can support trail grooming services in many ways
Purchase your trail permit for all sleds our riding on the system. This is where all the funds come for all clubs in the state to purchase snowmobile trail grooming equipment, cover fuel and routine maintenance costs.
Become a member of the club- www.keweenawsnowmobileclub.com
Donate at one of the donation boxes at many businesses in the area
Participate in the 50/50 raffle for the Keweenaw Snowmobile Club- last years winner took home $4,750
Visit the sponsors on the snowmobile trail map- they help make the season possible. *Request a 2022 Keweenaw Snowmobile Map here.
Q: How does the funding for the Keweenaw Snowmobile Club work?
Funding is provided from the DNR for the snowmobile program. We get an annual grant from the DNR that provides for the majority of operations- equipment, repairs, fuel, routine maintenance, insurance, trail improvement projects (bridges, culverts, gates, etc). However the grant does not provide for labor to run the groomers. It is up to the club to cover those costs. We cover those costs through the following ways- sponsors, donations, raffles, memberships, and volunteers. Without these funding mechanisms, we would not be able to groom the trails as often as we need to due to the high traffic we experience.
Q: What do you enjoy about grooming?
I enjoy being able to support the trail system, provide the riders a great experience, and see the scenic views at a slower speed. My favorite part is the views along the way- sunrises in the morning atop Brockway Mountain never get old.
About the Equipment
Q: What type of grooming equipment do we have here in the Keweenaw? How does it work?
The Keweenaw Snowmobile Club operates up to 5 groomers- 3 Pisten Bully Groomers, 2 New Holland Tractors. Each Tractor tows a Trail Setter Drag. These drags are designed to move the snow back and forth three times before packing it in place to setup and freeze. Ideally no one would ride the trail for a few hours till the snow freezes up. Its similar to how the Zamboni works on a skating rink.
The Keweenaw Snowmobile Club operates and maintains up to 5 groomers. | Photo provided by Keweenaw Snowmobile Club
Q: How is grooming equipment maintained? Where is it stored?
Our grooming equipment is maintained by the Club. We have a Trail Boss and Mechanic who do our pre-season maintenance, routine maintenance, and end of season maintenance inspections. Pre-season maintenance is ensuring that grooming equipment is ready to go the upcoming season, completing any repairs that were identified at the end of the previous seasons review and funding approved with the October Grant from the Michigan DNR. Routine maintenance during the season is oil changes, greasing, minor welding, hydraulic hose replacement, etc,. At the end of the season there is a deep review of each machine to report to the DNR to help with what equipment should be repaired or replaced. All of our groomers are currently stored at the Groomer barn in Mohawk. We are currently working on a new barn in Calumet that will have all machines to be stored inside.
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