Upper Peninsula snowmobile trail closed after resort owner pulls permits

WAKEFIELD, MI— Snowriver Mountain Resort, formerly known as Big Snow, has permanently pulled trail permits on their property.

They recently purchased Blackjack and Indianhead Mountains in Gogebic County.

The change means Snowmobile Trail 2 through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula will no longer connect Gogebic County from east to west.

Snowmobilers will have to take a large detour through Vilas County, WI.

The towns of Bessemer and Ironwood Michigan would no longer be accessible from the east via UP snowmobile trails.

Several Wisconsin towns would also be impacted by the closure.

Snowriver Mountains responded to public outcry via Facebook Wednesday:

“There has been a great amount of commentary and discussion on the meeting that took place over the snowmobile trail through the resort.

The management of Snowriver Mountain Resort, formerly known as Big Snow, appreciates the feedback we’ve received from snowmobilers over the past few days, and we recognize the huge economic value these visitors bring to the area. We look forward to working with our local community to help strengthen the local economy and continue to be both a good neighbor and good steward of the land we operate on.

As a ski resort, it is our responsibility to provide a comfortable, enjoyable, and safe skiing and boarding experience for our guests, including many families with young children. While we embrace and encourage all forms of winter recreation, the proximity of a busy snowmobile trail to our guests and our ski area operations creates hazards that are not only not covered by our insurance but are also not safe. While we do employ snowmobiles as part of our operations, including snowmaking and ski patrol, these trips are strictly limited, done by trained staff, are covered by insurance and are operated based on best industry safety protocols.

Unfortunately, the snowmobile trail system, as it exists today, goes directly through the heart of our ski area’s base areas and this is not safe. The trail in question came to be when other landowners revoked access to their land back in the mid-2010s. After this, a trail was built across the resort without a written use agreement or adequate liability plan. Moving forward, we are actively exploring options to find a solution in which a snowmobile trail between the east and west of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan can still travel through the communities of our surrounding area while continuing to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our guests.

We were told by the local snowmobile club that it had been working on alternative routing to accomplish this, and we have offered financial assistance to help with this effort.

The Snowriver Mountain Resort and our staff look forward to continuing to be community partners and working with all involved to find a solution that works best for everyone involved.”

The community of Wakefield, MI is directly impacted by the closure.

The city issued a statement Wednesday, acknowledging that the closure means that safe connectivity east to west is no longer possible.

City leaders also acknowledged the potential economic impact the closure will have.

“The economic impact of the closure of Trail 2 is real and significant. However, without a safe, designated trail, our concern is for the safety of snowmobilers who may seek passage on public roads or attempt crossings in low visibility areas,” said City Manager Robert Brown Jr.

The Gogebic Range Trail Authority maintains trails in the area. They say they respect private property owners’ rights but refute several of Snowriver’s claims.

“The Gogebic Range Trail Authority is a proud supporter of private property owner’s rights first and foremost. For the past 7 years this motorized trail functioned in beautiful harmony through these two ski hills beloved by all who visited them. While it’s utterly heartbreaking for us, we warmly respect Big Snow Resort’s new direction to end motorized tourism on their property. However, we wholly refute Mr. Skinner’s claim of egregious liability and insufficient or no documentation, that is entirely false. Mr. Skinner has asserted that “A trail was built across the resort without a written use agreement or adequate liability plan.” The GRTA has held a liability policy and trail permits for Big Snow Resort since the inception of the trail. The State of Michigan Department of Natural Resources wouldn’t allow GRTA to operate on their lands if we didn’t have liability coverage in place. It’s the absolute cornerstone of our program – landowner protection! The snowbelt region of the Midwest would not have the proliferation of snowmobile trails in this modern-day litigious society if egregious liability for landowners existed. Landowner protections in Michigan are stout and the snowmobile trail program hasn’t had a claim in 30 years.

Currently GRTA requests Snowriver to afford us a timetable for our departure – April 2023 – to develop a solution off their property. However, there is currently no known reroute and not for a lack of trying. The MDNR granted $30,000 development grant in 2018 to find a route for Snowmobile Trail 2 and the new Iron Belle Trail through this area. After 4 years the work has turned up no viable options. The only option to connect the ultra-critical snowmobile trail infrastructure was through Big Snow Resort. The fallout to area businesses from an abrupt shutdown will be devastating and everyone must do everything to prevent that from happening. We sincerely wish the circumstances of the trail were different and we were able to simply just pick it up and move it. However, local landowner politics and exceptionally dynamic terrain make any solution outside of Big Snow Resort a multi-million dollar project. We look forward to constructive talks with the new ownership to avert a devastating trail shutdown.”