Snowmobiling: Planning a trip - Show 2

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Podcasts
Snowmobiling: Planning a trip - Show 2 .mp3 (1.27 Mb) - 1/4/08

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Steve Carroll:

Hi everyone, I'm Steve Carroll and welcome to the DNR's podcast on snowmobiling in Minnesota.

We have tremendous snowmobiling opportunities throughout our state with about 20,000 miles of interconnected groomed trails provided by 195 snowmobile clubs and communities from Pipestone to Ely.

Today we are talking about making that trip out on a snowmobile trail and our guest is Les Ollila. He's a regional manager with the DNR Division of Trails and Waterways out of Grand Rapids, MN.

Les, welcome to the program.

Les Ollila:

Thanks, Steve.

SC:

People are really excited about snowmobiling this winter aren't they?

LO:

Oh, they really are. We've got snow everywhere in the state and it's enough to ride on.

SC:

Now you're a snowmobiler.

LO:

Yes, I am.

SC:

Correct?

LO:

Yeah.

SC:

So people have had their machines tucked away for seems like a couple years.

LO:

Well, I barely used mine last year and I went to get it and get it ready for winter and of course I've got tire problems and I've got light problems and my machines need to be tuned up and checked over and find all your clothing and all your stuff. It's a little preparation.

SC:

So do you suggest people plan ahead before they go out?

LO:

You need to because, you know, you're usually away from home and it's dark and cold and that's not a good time to be fixing and trying to find your stuff.

SC:

Right. And what are some things that they should be thinking about as they plan that trip?

LO:

Well, not only your equipment, which is very important, but also where you're going to go. We've got, on our DNR website, we've got a snow report that will tell you the conditions that week or for that weekend what the trail's going to be like, what the snow depths are. There's other contact numbers on our website. We've got trail maps. And if you need to know more, there's phone numbers to call if you want to know exactly what's going on right then and there or what's coming up that weekend for the conditions because they do vary. Our weather changes pretty quickly.

Of course the other thing that I think people probably know, that you know snowmobiling is kind of like going to a hockey event. You don't just show up and buy your ticket and expect a motel room to be there. You better plan ahead. And a lot of that information's on the maps that we have and the Chamber of Commerce numbers are there and hotels and all that. And they're on the trail maps too. These services are part of the sponsors that provide the trail maps too for the clubs. So they're all cooperating, this is big tourism business, but you need to plan ahead.

SC:

And there are all sorts of different experiences people can enjoy throughout the state.

LO:

Oh, sure. There's, down southeastern Minnesota you've got some beautiful bluff lands with some real interesting country. Where I'm from you're up in the varied country with the "pines and the mines" we call them. And then, you know, riding on lakes too is also interesting. There's so much variety in Minnesota.

SC:

And you mentioned motels. Why would a snowmobiler need a motel for example?

LO:

Well, you've got to stay somewhere. A lot of the people are going to trailer to where they're going to go. You've got to have a home base. And a lot of the motels that are near trails know about the trail and can provide some more information too, some local advice. But they've got to plan ahead.

SC:

Right. And about how many miles of trails do we have here in Minnesota?

LO:

Well, we've got over 20,000 miles and most of those are provided by snowmobile clubs. So they do the bulk of the work for our snowmobilers.

SC:

What kind of work do they do?

LO:

Well they go out and they actually get the permits to cross private lands and public lands and that takes a lot of work and a lot of cooperation. They do all the work preparing the trail, building the trail, building the bridges, they're grooming the trail. This is a pretty labor-intensive sport, takes a lot of hands, a lot of people out there brushing, cleaning, working all the time. It's a year-round job.

SC:

OK. Let's talk a little bit about equipment. The machines in particular have changed through the years.

LO:

Oh, they're wonderful. When we all started snowmobiling a number of years ago a machine would go ten miles and you'd have to fix it, figure out some way to get it back home, or be working on it. Nowadays, the equipment is so fool-proof or so dependable that you can ride for days without ever doing anything. They're like our cars now. People aren't changing their spark plugs on a regular basis. They're not having to fix anything. And they're smooth riding. They're smooth riding and quieter. Oh, they're so much nicer and they don't stink.

It's fun, it's fun. There's a lot of people that have snowmobiled 30 years ago and said, "I didn't really care for it then," and they get on a machine now and say, "boy is it different, this is really nice." And so they're able to go further and a lot easier.

SC:

Are there heaters on these machines?

LO:

Well, you get the handlebars. A lot of them have handlebar heaters, your handlebars and your thumbs. And a lot of them have a place where the air blows onto your feet. And, of course, the clothing nowadays is just wonderful. The helmets are so much better, you can see better. The clothing is so windproof and insulated. You don't see people wearing chopper mitts anymore snowmobiling. They wear gloves. It's very comfortable.

SC:

Right. I know the last time I went snowmobiling, which was years ago, but we wore duct tape across our nose to keep the heat on our face. I guess that's old school.

LO:

Well, that's old school.

SC:

But it worked.

LO:

It worked. Nowadays the helmets are ventilated and they're full-face helmets. They're much safer. The equipment's safer and better and works very well.

SC:

Do you have some advice for people that are kind of just getting started?

LO:

Well, I guess my advice is probably find a neighbor or a friend or a relative that's in it already because it's kind of a difficult sport to get into if you haven't been around it. I mean there's a lot of equipment, equipment and just plain knowledge and it's like hunting and fishing. We found that hunting and fishing pretty much starts as a family activity and so does snowmobiling. So getting started you can do it that way, or if you want to just go to a dealer, and those people love to get new people into the sport. And snowmobile clubs. Snowmobile clubs, you know, they started as a social club and now they're a trail club. And they're still a social club and safety and education and family events are really what they're all about.

SC:

Talk a little bit about the safety piece of snowmobiling.

LO:

Well, safety is a big concern because these are big machines with a lot of power. They can go very fast and people have a tendency to go faster than they can see. They over-drive their headlights. They'll go in places that are unfamiliar and snow might be over the top of tall grass and there might be a rock or a stump or something underneath and they'll hit it. This whole safety piece is all about being aware of where you are.

SC:

Obviously common sense plays a big role in it. There's all sorts of information about snowmobile safety training on the DNR website and requirements for people.

LO:

Safety training's mandatory for youth and also adults that are born after 1976 I believe. And dealers also provide snowmobile training and that's a real positive on their part too. So we've got clubs, DNR, we've got a lot of volunteer instructors, dealers.

Safety is such a big issue. It's tragic - people hitting things, hitting cars, going through the ice. This time of the year is so scary. You can't see what's underneath there. In Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan there's deaths every year from people going through the ice. They do not know what's underneath there.

SC:

Right. Well, that's all good information and that is about all the time we have today and I want to thank you for listening to our podcast on snowmobiling in Minnesota.

Our guest has been Les Ollila. He's the regional manager for the DNR Trails and Waterways Division out of Grand Rapids, MN.

For more information visit the DNR's website at www.mndnr.gov. I'm Steve Carroll for the Minnesota DNR.