Real winter is a fact of life in most states. What is real winter? It isn't the paltry 50-degree cold snaps of Southern California. What we're talking about is 50-degree-below-zero wind-chills and knee-deep snow, with maybe an ice storm thrown in for good measure from time to time. That's real winter, and the Upper Midwest is one of the places where you can count on this type of weather from early December through April. Of course, even for those who live in the Snow Belt there are two different attitudes toward the cold and snow: One is to hole-up and wait for it to go away, and the other is to get out and experience it. The Minnesota Go 4-Wheelers 4x4 club subscribes to the latter belief.
Minnesota Go 4S
The Go 4s are a large Minneapolis-based club comprised of scores of member families. It is a hands-on club that is involved in several huge events, including the legendary Memorial Total Off Road Rally in Dresser, Wisconsin, that draws thousands of 4x4 fans and hundreds of trucks to the Trollhaugen Ski Resort each Memorial Day weekend for trail rides and racing. Interestingly though, they've adapted to their environment (which features very long winters), and they're very active throughout the winter season with numerous trail rides. Almost all are held on private property and use trails in the state of Wisconsin and Minnesota. One of those is their annual River Falls, Wisconsin, trail ride, which takes place each February when winter has its best foothold on the area.
Exploring the St. Croix River ValleyDawn didn't really happen on the morning of the 2001 River Falls Winter Trail Run because it was cloudy and spitting snow. The thermometer in our Dodge Ram 4x4 rental beast told us that the temperature was 5 degrees below zero, so whoever said that it gets to a point where it's "too cold to snow" doesn't know what they're talking about. After meeting for breakfast at a local restaurant, our group of vehicles convoyed out to the private property used for the run. The Go 4s have struck an agreement with the landowner whereby they trade general labor for the opportunity to explore the land, a pact that is beneficial for both parties. The land is part of the St. Croix River Valley and is a rolling conglomeration of gullies and hills. The land seems to be split 50/50 between farmland and forest, and numerous farms dot the winding country back roads.
The 2001 River Falls Winter Trail Ride marked the 12th anniversary of this popular one-day event, and even though it's a bit of a drive from the Go 4's home base of Minneapolis, it drew more than 30 vehicles and scores of participants. The beauty of the run is that it not only offers the opportunity to explore the Wisconsin woods, but it offers a significant number of varying obstacles. The land is comprised of thick woods with narrow trails, deep, ice-filled gullies, and treeless rolling hills. One minute we'd carefully snake our 4x4s between a tree and a deep gully, and the next we'd call on every bit of horsepower to climb a long, snow-choked grade. Winds had whipped the snow into drifts and filled in trenches, gullies, and small holes, so we had to be alert. Still, more than one driver was surprised when his truck's front wheels dropped into an unseen hole, necessitating a recovery.
Other than airing down their tires to 10-12 psi, the Go 4s seem to battle the snow using the same mods as they do for any other trails. We did see a proliferation of aggressive tires (no surprise there), but there was also a number of daily driven rigs with all-terrain tread. Many of the folks using all-terrain tires offset the decreased traction by using lockers to transfer the power to all four wheels. Speaking of daily drivers, we were impressed to see that more than 70 percent of the rigs were driven to the run and driven home.
Winter 'wheeling such as this could be the Next Level for experienced 'wheelers, because it creates a completely new set of challenges. It allows you to hone your winter driving skills at your own pace, and in the case of the Go 4s, in very good company.
The River Falls Winter Trail ride is open to members of the Go 4s, or if you're buddies with a member, you can come as their guest. For more information on the club and their goings-on, contact them at Minnesota Go 4-Wheelers, Dept. OR, 344 Independence Ave., Champlin, MN 55316, (763) 427-5903.