Snowless season frustrates winter sports enthusiasts

Brown ground
There's more dead grass than snow in this Brainerd city park.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

The Northland Arboretum sits in the middle of the central Minnesota cities of Baxter and Brainerd.

In the midst of 500 acres of woods and lakes, Dale Braddy stands in his favorite spot. Braddy is the executive director of the arboretum. His office sits about two miles away at a visitors' center. But here he's surrounded by a curtain of towering red pines.

Icy trail
The cross country trails at the Northland Arboretum aren't ready for skiers. A shortage of snow and recent warm weather has reduced the trails to bare, icy ground.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

"This is better than Walden Pond," Brady says. "Once you get out in this area, you don't want to go back to your office or even your home. This is truly a winter wonderland."

Or at least it would be, if there had been some winter. There's barely an inch of snow on the ground. Recent rains and warm weather have left much of the arboretum's 12 miles of cross country ski trails bare or covered with frozen puddles.

"We haven't had any snow here this year. We just had a couple of inches, we need six inches to really groom the trails," Braddy says.

The arboretum is hosting plenty of indoor activities this winter, like cooking classes. And Braddy says there's nothing wrong with a nice winter hike in the woods. But he says it's not too late for a some great ski conditions. There's plenty of frozen ground for a base, now they just need some snow.

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Dale Braddy
Dale Braddy is the executive director of the Northland Arboretum. He says while the cross country ski trails aren't in good shape, there's still plenty to do at the arboretum.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

"And we're praying for more snow of course," Braddy says.

The lack of snow has also silenced nearby snowmobile trails. If they're not closed, they're reported to be in poor condition.

The news isn't much better, even in parts of the state that have snow. According to the DNR, trail managers like to see at least a foot of snow for packing and grooming trails. The National Weather Service says there are only a few places in the state with more than eight inches of snow on the ground.

But just north of Brainerd, Mother Nature is getting a little help. In the middle of Brainerd International Raceway, surrounded by an otherwise brown landscape, sits a five-acre pile of snow. It's machine made. Over the past few days, workers have taken tons of the stuff and formed a snowmobile race course. Scott Quick is the general manager of the raceway.

"We have a good base of snow, four to five feet in most places. And we have several jumps and turns out here where the snow is 10 or 12 feet," Quick says.

Snow truck
A truck empties machine made snow on a snowmobile race course near Brainerd Minnesota.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

The snow comes from Quick's own recently bought snowmaker. A crew spent almost a week early in December making the snow. He says it's sad to say, but recent Minnesota winters haven't been reliable.

"Statistically over the past four or five years, if you're in this business you'd better have your own equipment because we can't count on Mother Nature every year. I wish we could, and I wish we had two feet of snow on the ground, but it doesn't work out like that so we have to resort to other measures," Quick said.

There are no major snow storms in the forecast for Minnesota. Long range forecasts says mild temperatures could continue into February.