Snowmobilers look for a royal flush
The Flat Tops might seem like an unlikely place for a poker game – but not for the more than 400 card-shark snowmobilers who participated in a mammoth, marathon “poker run” Sunday.
“I’ve been coming to this since the first one,” Eagle resident John Oleson said of the Rifle Snowmobile Club’s 11th annual Poker Run.
Players rode snowmobiles along trails of freshly groomed snow, making stops at five poker stations along a 35-mile long loop, drawing cards and adding to their hands along the way.
Oleson and his son, Garrett, completed their run by 2 p.m., and though they didn’t win – “A pair of sevens isn’t going to do it,” Oleson said with a smile – they said they whole-heartedly enjoyed the ride, the scenery, the food, the door prizes and the fun. By mid-afternoon, hundreds of snowmobiles were gathered at the final station to lay their cards on the table – so to speak – collect raffle prizes, warm up by an open-air stove that had been hauled up to the station, and have a warm meal – and of course, to see had the winning hand.
Organizer Yvonne Chambers said the club sold more than 800 hands of poker – hands cost $6 per hand, or four for $20. Money raised helps the club maintain trails and the equipment needed to do so.
“Most of our riders come from the Rifle, Parachute, Glenwood and Grand Junction area,” she said, but the event also attracted people from as far away as South Dakota this year.
Poker run players started convening before the 9:30 a.m. start from Huffman Gulch on the north end of Rifle Mountain Park, about 16 miles above the town of Rifle. The parking lot filled quickly with 4X4 trucks pulling flatbed trailers and fancier, enclosed varieties, all hauling snowmobiles.
Frenchy and Sherry Cusson of Eagle heard about the run on the Internet. Standing next to their Polaris 600 with “Yahoo Buckaroo!” written across the front, they said they’d be back.
“There are so many more Ski-doos here than Polaris,” she said of the rivalry between two of the more popular “sled” makers.
“Yeah,” added rider Garrett Oleson. “It’s just like the difference between Chevy and Ford.”
Scott Coulter was up late the night before the event. He made the last grooming run at 11:30 p.m. Saturday with the snowmobile club’s Bombardier Plus snowcat.
Coulter knows the area like the back of his hand – pardon the pun. The “race” runs right through and around Coulter Mesa, Coulter Lake Guest Ranch, and Coulter Lake, all named after Scott’s family. –
“These machines are $200,000 new,” said fellow trails groomer Bob Hoffmeister, standing next to the club’s impressive “cat.” Hoffmeister, like all the club’s groomers, volunteers his time to smooth out the 91 miles of snowmobile trails that wind through the White River National Forest atop the Flat Tops.
Groomer Lee Estes said the club works closely with the Forest Service.
“We don’t make a move without their blessing,” Estes said.
The club purchased their grooming machine in 1999, when it was 2 years old. It used to groom trails at Snowmass ski area; now it maintains the trails that club members – and others – use all winter long.
It was a good purchase, according to Estes.
“In the ’60s, when the club first started, our original groomer was from Hoffey,” he said of Bob Hoffmeister. “He was the original Ski-doo dealer in town and we used a pair of bedsprings behind one of Hoffey’s first double-back Ski-doos!”
Now, the club’s intrepid groomer team, which also includes Lu and Liz Lewis, and Donnie Smith, take turns operating the Bombardier, which has a heated cab, two bucket seats and panel of levers and buttons to make the smoothest and widest trails possible.
Janet and Herb Weisbard of Missouri Heights participated in the 2003 poker run, and decided to serve hot drinks at this year’s event.
“I have a cook stove, so I brought it up and we’re serving hot chocolate, coffee, cider, whatever people would like,” Weisbard said. “It’s a wonderful event.”
“We haven’t stopped since 11 this morning,” said Kay Robinson, a Rifle Snowmobile Club member, who was slinging chili and flipping burgers at the food tent. Among the volunteers who joined Robinson was Bob Walker.
“Actually, we started last night, making chili,” Walker said with a smile.