Making tracks through the snow
When winter rolls around in Colorado, the roads become endless.
Well, the roads may not be paved, but on a snowmobile that’s just fine.
“You see a lot of terrain and beauty,” said Steve Pittel, an owner of Nova Guides, one of many area companies that offer snowmobiling tours. “You get to see the mountains from a different perspective.”
Every year, thousands of people ” locals and visitors ” hop on a sled and take a trek through the vast expanse of woods and trails.
“There’s a core group locally in Summit and Eagle County,” said Don Dressler, a snow ranger with the Forest Service. “A lot of (the Vail Pass) use comes from the Denver area. People are coming from out of state just to snowmobile here. It’s kind of a Rocky Mountain industry.”
Unlike skiing, snowmobiling made an emergence in the area in the early 70s.
“It was in its infancy in the mountains,” said Randy Guerierro, president of the Holy Cross Powder Hounds. “They weren’t making sleds that could go in deep snow, and there wasn’t grooming that was established.”
Now, there are plenty of options for snowmobilers, who can cruise on miles and miles of groomed terrain en route to the fresh snow.
“We groom the Piney Lake area up to Muddy Pass and the Red and White Mountains to north of Vail,” said Guerierro, whose club is one of almost 40 in the state.
The Powder Hounds maintain about 60 miles of groomed trails, while the Forest Service has about 48 miles of groomed terrain on the Vail Pass recreation area, which is attended to by the Vail Pass Task Force.
While some snowmobilers crave speed, others are just as content with cruising or finding powder stashes.
“I enjoy the speed ” you can cover a lot of terrain in a day,” Dressler said. “You can have a wide range of experiences. We see all types of use, from beginners riding with guides up to the guys jumping cliffs.”
“The camaraderie is the biggest thing about snowmobiling,” Guerierro said.
Riding alone on ungroomed terrain isn’t advisable, and for good reason.
“In the middle of the season, to have 8 feet under you is real common,” Guerierro said.
On the other end of the spectrum, a base of at least one foot is recommended.
“It’s to protect the underlying grasses and soils,” Dressler said. “Anytime there’s 12 inches or more, there’s not that damage.”
In the Vail Pass area, which has some sections designated for non-motorized uses, there are maps available at trailheads, as well as marked signs.
Many snowmobilers, either dedicated or first-timers, use the snow in plenty of other manners.
“It’s a great alternative to skiing,” Pittel said. “Some people come up here for skiing and get tired after three days and want to do something else.”
“I’m a crossover guy, I do a lot skiing, I snowboard, and I ski telemark,” said Guerierro, who noted snowmobiling is just as physical as other snow sports. “It’s like skiing ” it beats you up plenty,” Guerierro said.
And snowmobiling has incorporated skiing recently.
“We’re seeing some trends … and one of the biggest is the move toward hybrid skiing, or motorized-access skiing,” Dressler said. “This is a nationwide trend. Groups of guys go in, buy a snowmobile and will tow each other.”
One barrier to greater participation in snowmobiling is the startup costs. New sleds can cost several thousand dollars, and in addition to specific riding gear, there are maintenance costs for oil and gas.
But for those not looking to make such a large commitment, tours are affordable. And even for those who purchase a sled, the usage or club fees are nominal (User fees for the Forest area are $40 per person a season, or $6 per person a day; Powder Hounds dues are $35 a year).
Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vail Daily, Vail Colorado CO