New way to groom

Ely Igloo Snowmobile Club trying out a new way to groom area lakes and trails

by Nick Wognum
The Ely Igloo Snowmobile Club has a new way to groom area trails.
The club purchased a 2022 John Deere Gator with tracks and has modified a drag to smooth out trails.
“I hope it works out, it’s been working good,” said club president Rico Mondati.
“It’s got a lot of pulling power, I just hope it lasts. It will sure help out for going to Lake Vermilion,” he said.
Club member Corey Keen has used the new machine to groom local trails around Ely as well as to Lake Vermilion.
“When I was researching it, other clubs using UTVs say the Gator holds up the best,” said Keen. “Being a John Deere it’s more heavy duty.”
The rig cost the club around $39,000 plus $2,000 to modify a drag to pull behind it.
The club was able to pay for the equipment with a combination of savings and monies from charitable gambling operations.
“The drag was an old four foot one we had. They didn’t want to buy a new one so we cuts this one in half and made it bigger,” said Keen.
He credited Jim Nelson and Brad Larsen for the work on the drag.
“We almost completely rebuilt it other than the outer frame. The Gator is 70 inches and the drag is exactly 72 inches,” said Keen.
Snowmobilers will notice that not only are portages being groomed, but the staked trails on the lakes are being smoothed out as well.
“It’s 40 miles from town to Lake Vermilion and back and it burned 11.5 gallons of fuel. It’s considerably less to operate than a BR180 or 160,” said Keen.
This past week he also used the machine to groom snowmobile trails in town and out to Winton, across Fall Lake to 13 Corners, over to White Iron Beach and back.
Groomer driver Bill Hane used it to groom from White Iron Lake to Birch Lake to the Hidden Bay Trail and back. Previously Hane used a Bearcat snowmobile to pull a smaller drag.
“You can’t buy Bearcats anymore and the ones the club has are getting worn out,” said Keen. “And the Gator is a heck of a lot warmer than a Bearcat. It also does a better job at cutting the corners down when they get banked up. It’s not like a big groomer but it’s a lot better than the snowmobile drags.”
There is a spot on the Grassy Loop that is too narrow for the Gator to fit through. The club will work with the Forest Service to widen the trail.
“Time will tell if the machine holds up but lots of other clubs are using them. There’s a small club in the North Metro that’s all they use and they have two of them. Clubs out east in the mountains use them and clubs in Wisconsin use them so they have to hold up somewhat,” said Keen.
Other trails being groomed include the portages between Shagawa, Little Long, Bass and Fall lakes.
“And the drag is down all the way across the lake. We’re grooming the whole time,” said Keen. “My point was to try to knock these lakes down.”