JAMESTOWN, N.D. -- There are just a couple activities left for snowmobile enthusiasts when the North Dakota winter does not drop much snow on the ground.
"You can dream about snow," said Drew Courtney, president of the Snow-Busters Snowmobile Club in Oakes, "or another big thing is to head west and ride in the mountains."
Snow on the ground is an inch or two at best across most of North Dakota, Courtney said.
"Most of the weather you hear about this winter has been good across the state," he said.
There is a third option, Glenn Christenson, president of the Jim River Driftskippers club in Jamestown, said.
"We haven't done much but hold meetings," he said. "We didn't groom the trails this year because there is not enough snow."
The trail network that the Driftskippers help maintain extends as far north as Spiritwood Lake and connects south to places like Fort Ransom and back up to Valley City and on to Jamestown.
"But it has been a bad year for snow," Christianson said.
Some snowmobilers have loaded up their sleds and headed for deep snow.
Favorite destinations to the west have included the Big Horn Mountains, the Black Hills and West Yellowstone. To the east, parts of Minnesota have received enough snow for trails. Snow conditions can vary and people should call for current conditions before traveling.
"There are a lot of fun places to go," Courtney said. "If you go with people that know the area you can find some amazing back trails."
In Minnesota, the northeastern quadrant has at least 6 inches of snow or more, DNR maps show. The Duluth area shows about 8 to 12 inches of snow, however much of that region's 63.9 inches fell early in the season and melted away. That left snowmobile trails, even in January, in rough shape with minimal snow cover before another storm system improved conditions.
Forget South Dakota, however, there's little or no snow across the state.
There are a few snowmobile activities that still take place in North Dakota even when there is a shortage of snow.
"The Fort Ransom area has a vintage ride," Courtney said. "You can look at snowmobile even if you can't ride."
Local clubs also are involved in safety programs.
"We try to steer clear of the rivers," Courtney said. "We advise people to stay off the James River for safety. Last year we even placed ads in the newspapers to keep people off the river."
The Sno-Busters in Oakes also holds youth safety programs.
"It all starts with calf sleds behind the snowmobiles," Courtney said. "We start them young to teach them good safety precautions."
The lack of snow has also slowed snowmobile sales, said John Docktor, salesman at Gun and Reel Sports in Jamestown.
"Production was also down because of COVID," he said, referring to the factory production of new sleds. "Even with sales down, there wasn't much inventory out there."
Other outdoor winter sports also took a hit with the lack of snow cover.
The Jamestown Parks and Recreation Department usually grooms trails for cross-country skiers at the Hillcrest Golf Course each winter.
"Instead of ski trails at Hillcrest we had golfing the first few days of December," said Doug Hogan, superintendent of the department. "It was up into the 60s the first days of December."