Gogebic County ski resort closes portion of snowmobile, ORV trail

The decision has ignited a discussion between the resort and snowmobile clubs about the impact it will have on area businesses and tourism.
Trail 2 in Wakefield.
Trail 2 in Wakefield.(Gogebic Range Trail Authority)
Published: Sep. 22, 2022 at 1:38 PM EDT
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WAKEFILED, Mich. (WLUC) - Big Snow Resort — formerly Indianhead Ski Resort and Blackjack Ski Resort — has decided to close snowmobile access to a portion of trail that runs through its property because of safety concerns.

The decision has led to community outcry about the effect it will have on western Gogebic County businesses.

According to the Gogebic Range Trail Authority and Snowmobile Club (GRTA), the portion of Gogebic County Snowmobile Trail 2 which runs through Big Snow Resort in Wakefield, will no longer be accessible via snowmobiles and ORVs.

The City of Wakefield says with the trail’s closure, safe connectivity east to west by snowmobile in Gogebic County is no longer possible. Furthermore, the closure eliminates the gateway thousands of winter motorized sports enthusiasts use to access Michigan’s trails from Wisconsin.

The snowmobile club held an emergency meeting Tuesday about the closure.

In a statement by the GRTA, Club President Steve Hamilton said, “The fallout to area businesses from an abrupt shutdown will be devastating.”

Charles Skinner, president and CEO of Midwest Family Ski Resorts, which operates Big Snow Resort, responded to concerns in a public statement Wednesday. In it, Skinner said the decision was made with resort patrons’ safety in mind.

“As a ski resort, it is our responsibility to provide a comfortable, enjoyable, and safe skiing and boarding experience for our guests,” Skinner said. “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.”

Skinner also said Trail 2 “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.”

The GRTA and Hamilton rebuked Skinner’s claim directly in their statement Wednesday. In response to liability concerns, Hamilton said, “The GRTA has held a liability policy and trail permits (land use agreement) for Big Snow Resort since the inception of the trail.”

Hamilton also said there is no feasible alternative to the existing trail, adding, “Local landowner politics and exceptionally dynamic terrain make any solution outside of Big Snow Resort a multi-million dollar project.”

Skinner, however, said the resort is “actively exploring” solutions in which a snowmobile trail will continue to travel from east to west, and that it has offered financial assistance to the GRTA to help with that effort.

Both Big Snow and the GRTA expressed interest in continuing to work together to find a solution.

The City of Wakefield is monitoring the situation closely and engaging with all stakeholders, Wakefield City Manager Robert Brown Jr. said in a statement.

“The City of Wakefield respects the rights of private property owners. Although we are disheartened to hear the announcement of the trail closing so close to the snowfall, we hope a compromise may be brokered between Snowriver Mountain Resort and the Gogebic Range Trail Authority. 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.”