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High-powered powder riding

Caramie Schnell
Vail CO, Colorado

Christian Charter is a self-proclaimed speed junkie, so it’s no surprise that he had a grin on his face from the time he arrived at Nova Guides to the time he left. Though Charter was in town with his brother, Jamey, and friend, Blake Stephens, for only two full days, he chose to spend one day on a snowboard in Vail’s Back Bowls and one day on a snowmobile in the backcountry – a perfect duo, he said.

When Charter was in Vail three years ago, he went snowmobiling with friends and family, and chose Nova Guides because it was the only company they could find in the area that offered unguided snowmobile rentals.

“I had so much fun that first time and I knew that if we went with a guide that we wouldn’t have the same kind of freedom to roam around where we wanted,” he said.

That freedom got Charter and his brother into trouble early-on on their most recent snowmobile adventure. Not realizing how much snow was in the powder fields by Camp Hale south of Minturn, both of them got their sleds stuck and spent nearly an hour helping each other dig out.

“I couldn’t believe the amount of snow in all the powder fields,” he said. “When we went two years ago, you could ride snowmobile tracks up the sides of some of the mountains in the valley – not this year.”

Those like Charter are finding powder and speed away from the chairlifts and ski slopes and in the backcountry on gas-powered machines.

Doing the unstuck

After getting their snowmobiles unstuck, Charter and his brother joined the rest of their group. They headed up Resolution Road to Ptarmigan Pass and back, enjoying the views, and ended their half-day excursion discovering fresh powder and small jumps in the snowmobile “playground,” not too far from the lodge.

Stephens, who had only been on a snowmobile once before, admitted she was scared at first about being completely on their own. But by afternoon’s end, Stephens had a different view.

“What surprised me is how nervous and scared I was in the beginning, on the drive up, and by the end of the day I was wanting a faster snowmobile. I felt like mine wasn’t fast enough.”

Stephens said if she had the money, and if she had people to go snowmobiling with her who would help dig out the machine if she got stuck, she’d likely buy her own snowmobile.

“It was definitely a rush,” she said. “I had a blast.”

Powder battles

During the first hour of their four-hour rental, Stephens said their group of snowmobilers passed a large group of snowshoers.

“I felt bad, you know, with all the exhaust,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to have to breathe that in.”

Greg Caretto, co-owner of Nova Guides, admitted that there is some level of contention between snowmobilers and cross country skiers and snowshoers. As a result, he and his business partner, Steve Pittel, are involved with the Vail Pass Task Force, a conglomeration of those interested in recreation on Vail Pass.

“You’re always going to have people, no matter what you do, that don’t want you to be doing what you’re doing,” he said. “This task force is to help make the interested users realize they’re not the only ones out there and there’s room for all of us. We’re basically trying to educate people about playing friendly.”

Guide watch

Dan Gallo and Jeff Summerhill spent a half-day snowmobiling with Nova Guides, but went on a guided tour. They both said that next time they’d take the sleds out themselves, rather than opt for the guide. This may have something to do with the fact that Gallo collided with his guide early in the afternoon. The machines were totaled, but neither of the men were hurt in the incident.

Caretto said that most of the accidents they have (which he said is less than 0.1 percent) occur when people fail to pay attention to what they’re doing.

“Usually when people get hurt, they’re riding above their abilities,” Caretto said. “Everybody is on vacation and no one is supposed to get hurt on vacation, so they don’t watch out for their own safety.”

As far as expense was concerned, Summerhill said snowmobiling wasn’t too much more expensive than skiing.

“Especially if you have to rent all the gear and then pay $80 for a lift ticket,” he said.

Caramie Schnell can be reached for comment at cschnell@vailtrail.com.


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