It seems perfectly fitting for 2020, which has been unusual in so many ways, that a lack of significant snowfall has delayed activity in the Upper Peninsula’s Snowmobiling Capital of the Midwest, centered around 330 miles of trails near Munising.
But weather reports indicate that a return to normal is coming as the late December and early January forecast shows snow accumulations to hit the area in 7 of the next 10 days.
“There’s never really a problem or a question if we’ll have enough snow,” said Cori-Ann Cearly, the president of the Munising Visitors Bureau. “It’s always just a matter of when.”
The region averages 230 inches of snow each winter, making Munising and Alger County the perfect destination and starting spot for sled riders looking for a complete trail system that allows travel between towns, through magical woods, and to majestic ice caves and ice structures that daring climbers scale daily.
The groomed terrain matches any snowmobiler’s taste for adventure, or an easy day on the packed surfaces to visit Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and Miner’s Castle. The wide berths and stress-relieving scenic views are the perfect tonic to the tumultuous year stained by the COVID-19 pandemic. The impact of the virus in Alger County has been minimized by safety measures and social distancing.
“Going on an adventure and seeing things that bring you joy is something we all really need right now,” Cearly said. “The most important thing is that it offers an opportunity for activity that is safe and healthy.
“The trails are like a highway in the woods, and it’s a place that we can slow down take your time and just be outdoors.”
Here is what Munising visitors will find:
330 miles of trails groomed daily
Members of the Snowmobile & O.R.V. Association of Alger County (SORVA for short) begin grooming the trials Dec. 1 and continue as long as the snow lasts, which is usually into April. The system provides access from Au Train to Shingleton and all trails and points between, Cearly said.
Widened trails improve safety
The trails that already allowed riders to glide across the snow will now include a median of sorts. SORVA brought in brush-hogging equipment over the warmer months to provide more room to ride – a key safety factor when sled operators encounter each other while traveling in opposite directions. Cearly estimates that the paths have 30 percent more room. While the width could allow three riders to fan out side-by-side, it is still strongly recommended to travel the trails single-file.
Low-lying areas have been in-filled
More off-season trail preparation has brought even better grading and filling to eliminate large depressions and holes. Don’t worry, there are still great hills and varying terrain, but riders won’t hit pothole-like conditions while zipping around the trail. Previously snowfalls would not completely fill and level the terrain since the snow packs down and forms around the hole, just like a pothole that will jar you while driving on pavement.
“All of this has been done to make it a better experience,” Cearly said. “You’re going to have just as much fun, probably more, because it’s going to be such a smooth ride.”
Smaller season crowds and better rates
Now, to be fair, with hundreds of miles of trails and countless off-trail spots to ride, there’s rarely snowmobile gridlock. History, however, shows that winter is slower than the summer influx of sightseers. Lodging rates fluctuate with demand, so that means there are even better deals to be found at area hotels.
If you don’t have your own machine, you can potentially find rental sleds available at a lower cost as well. It’s the perfect time for a quick winter weekend up north.
Shake off the holiday (and pandemic) stress: The holiday haze is real as we spend much of November and December rushing around shopping and only to hunker down with the turn of the new year. Break out of the cabin fever doldrums and see natural beauty that will relieve all the pent-up pressure.