Black Hills snowmobiling is gliding into the future at Trailshead

Eye on KELOLAND

The Black Hills offers some of the best snowmobiling in the region with 350 miles of trails. That’s the same distance between Sioux Falls and Rapid City on I-90.

People come from all over the country to experience snowmobiling in the Black Hills.

Not only do they get the thrill and excitement of blasting down a groomed trail, but they can also switch off the engine and experience the peace, tranquility and wildlife of the backcountry. It’s the part of the Black Hills you can’t always see from the road.

At the heart of the trail system sits the Trailshead Lodge. The 35-year-old business features snowmobile rentals, a place to gas up, get a bite to eat or something to drink. And for some, a place to sleep after a long day on the trails.

Six years ago Todd Ebright bought the business from the longtime owners. He and his wife Julie have been updating the buildings and furnishings and looking for new ways to serve customers. For Todd, who grew up on a farm near Delmont and later owned a successful business in the Twin Cities, the purchase was a longtime dream.

“I had searched all over basically I’d been to Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Colorado, looked at other resorts. And I was looking for a resort that I could basically turn around and make it cash flow properly for me,” said Todd.

After several years of searching, Trailshead checked all the boxes and he bought the business in 2015.

Julie worked in the radiology field for 30 years, now she’s experiencing the life of a business owner.

“Well I run from the kitchen to cleaning the cabins to helping out getting the rentals out to you know cleaning the bathrooms cleaning up the tables and taking reservations and taking orders and it’s just yeah it’s just constantly running back and forth.

Fixing snowmobiles? “No that I don’t have to do thank goodness!”

Julie also has her own way of getting her cleaning supplies and linens to the 7 cabins they rent out. She pulls her cart behind a snowmobile.

The business has become a family affair with daughter Shauna and granddaughter Hailey working behind the counter.

7-year-old grandson Carter helps Todd in the shop. On this day they are replacing a broken windshield. Once fixed, it’s back to the building where the 30 rental snowmobiles are stored and waiting for the next customer.

Like many rental places, Trailshead can outfit people for riding in the cold, everything from boots to snowsuits to helmets.

The Ebrights say there is a certain amount of pride that comes with owning a place like Trailshead.

“I think it’s history, this is where snowmobiling started in the Black Hills and you can go pretty much anywhere any state and anybody ever around that knows anything about snowmobiling and everybody has heard of Trailshead,” Todd said.

For the snowmobilers, Trailshead offers a central hub to explore the trails, which stretch from Deadwood to Ditch Creek and into Wyoming.

“The snowmobile trail system is designed around this spot,” Julie Said. “And so it’s marked accordingly, so when you are going down the trail they have these orange reflector markers spaced out about 3,000 feet apart and when they are on the right-hand side of the trail that means you’re going away from Trailshead and when they are on the left-hand side you’re coming back to Trailshead, so we always tell everybody it’s right away and left to lodge.”

The trails are maintained by a fleet of 6 groomers, most often at night. The terrain varies from open meadows to winding tree-lined hills and canyons. The lodge sits at an altitude of 6,500 feet, just 500 feet lower than Terry Peak. That’s why Trailshead can get more than twice the amount of snow as places at lower elevations. And why it’s an attractive starting spot for snowmobilers.

Snowmobilers are a group dedicated to outdoor fun. Todd and Julie say they are glad to be a part of that family and uphold the traditions of the little store that started it all 35 years ago.

“Just come and enjoy yourself,” Todd said.

“Even a bad day of snowmobling is better than a good day at work!” said Julie.

Trailshead is now open during the summer too. Instead of providing snowmobiles, they rent out UTV’s. Also of note, the Ebrights say the past 12 months have been great for business. Because of Covid, more people than ever are exploring outdoor activities.

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