Big toys in a big Western Slope sandbox |

Big toys in a big Western Slope sandbox

Preston Utley/Vail DailyEd Mumm communicates by walkie-talkie to a excavator operator Friday in Steamboat Springs. Mumm is creator of Dig This, a company which allows anyone to operate heavy equipment.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colorado ” The bulldozer lumbers up the ramp of snow. It tilts back until the marbled sky is spread across the windshield.

As the yellow behemoth reaches the apex, the machine ” all 9 tons of it ” teeters in the air.

And then it falls forward. In this instant, it is a terrifying lurch. The driver wonders to himself, can you flip a bulldozer? Because this driver had stepped into a bulldozer for the first time a mere 30 minutes ago.

Before he can consider such a question, the bulldozer is angled downward, its tracks firmly planted on the snow, and he is confidently speeding to the next ramp in this meadow outside Steamboat Springs.

Providing a jolt of adrenaline is one thought behind Dig This, a “heavy equipment play arena.” Besides that, people have an innate desire to push dirt with big machines, says Ed Mumm, its creator.

“I find a lot of people have never grown out of their sandboxes,” says Mumm, a burly New Zeleander who built fences until he came up with the idea for Dig This. “Subconsciously, we never left them.”

Mumm has collected the big, yellow machines that are commonplace on construction sites ” Caterpillar bulldozers and excavators ” and turned them into big toys in a big sandbox.

“It’s for the person who’s always driven past construction sites and saw a bulldozer and said, ‘I wish I could have a go on that,'” Mumm says.

No experience necessary ” or expected. Simply fork over $400 for a half day or $750 for a full day. Oh, and sign a liability waiver.

Dig This opened last November, and operates in both summer and winter. Mumm has aspirations to expand the concept ” which he calls the first of its kind in the United States ” to other cities such as Chicago, Houston and Las Vegas. It caters to a lot of tourists, Mumm said, and is popular with corporations for team-building exercises.

“We’re also looking at doing marriage counseling,” he says.

You will get a hard hat and a safety talk in the yurt Mumm has erected on Dig This’ 10-acre site. Then Mumm ” or one of his several instructors ” will have you climb into the cockpit of one of the big machines. He will show you each of the levers and pedals that control the machine. Then he will close the door, leaving you alone at the controls.

He will talk to you via a two-way radio that is Velcro’d to the wall of the cabin.

Pull the lever on your right toward you, he might say. Push the one on your left away from you, he might say.

Be more aggressive, he tells a participant Friday.

“They’re built for power, so give it power,” he says.

A ramp was built. An obstacle course was navigated. A road was graded. A hole was dug.

“You’re a natural,” he tells the nascent bulldozer operator, who had no idea he could be a natural at such a thing.

In the yurt at the end of the day, there were Cokes and certificates of participation for all.

“For someone who’s never done this, it’s good to get in the saddle and have a play,” Mumm says.

For more information, call 888-DIG THIS.

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or

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