Snowmobiling the Summit
SUMMIT COUNTY ” If your legs need a rest from the slopes but you still want to experience Colorado’s backcountry, snowmobiling can be the perfect way to see some of the state’s most spectacular views.
Never ridden a snowmobile?
You’re not alone.
“Ninety-nine percent of our customers are novices, ” said Tara Wefing, who’s been guiding for Good Times Adventures for eight years.
Snowmobiling is a sport that can be enjoyed just as easily by people who have never seen the snow as advanced riders who have years of experience on a machine.
Regardless of skill level, all riders generally share the same goal.
“It’s about getting back to where you can’t hike,” said Jason Libby, assistant outside operations manager for Good Times.
Good Times, which is located outside of Breckenridge, has been running tours up to the 11, 500-foot summit of the Continental Divide for nearly two decades.
Guides lead customers on two- or three-hour tours to Georgia Pass for an outlook that stretches 150 miles on a clear day.
“I’ve never gotten sick of that view,” Wefing said.
For a different perspective, High Country Tours, based in Frisco, offers
two-hour guided trips for novices and advanced riders.
In its more basic trip, the guide sticks to the groomed trails and meanders through the Arapahoe National Forest to the backside of Copper Mountain, where the trees open up to a picture perfect view of some of Colorado’s tallest peaks, including Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive.
High Country also runs a guided tour for those who aren’t new to the sport, when riders can blaze their own trails, said Rachel White, who runs High Country.
“You get powder riding, off trail riding and don’t consistently stay on the groomers,” White said.
Both tour operators begin with a standard safety talk when riders learn how to operate the machinery.
Boots, snowsuits and helmets are provided at no extra charge.
For the more experienced rider, who wants to rip it up without the watchful eye of a guide, some companies will set you up with a machine, give a little advice and send you out to the snow.
John Cantamessa at the Colorado Adventure Center rents basic and high performance machines to adventure seekers in Summit County.
“They’re pretty much on their own out there. It’s not a lot different from picking up a car rental,” Cantamessa said.
He added that he and his staff are happy to help people out with maps or suggest exceptional places to ride.
“We’re primarily geared toward people who have their own gear, are experienced and just want to rent and go guide on their own.”
This group of riders needs to be especially wary of avalanches, said Dale Atkins of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC).
“Snowmobiles are a bigger trigger (of avalanches) because there is more weight on the slopes, ” Atkins said. “People on their machines can venture out on the slopes many more times per day than a backcountry skier or snowboarder, they’re exposing themselves to the hazard longer and the risk is greater.”
Atkins added that most avalanches occur on slopes of 35 degrees or more, which he equated to the steepness of a black diamond, or double-diamond ski run.
He said that although those slopes are often prime playing places for snowmobile riders, they should be avoided, especially if everyone is not familiar with the terrain.
Also, riding single file is imperative to snowmobile safety, so more than one rider doesn’t get trapped in an avalanche, Atkins said.
He warned against entering dangerous areas to try to help a friend who’s become stuck. Instead, Atkins said, it’s best to move to a safe area and keep a close eye on the other rider.
“At the end of the day, you’ll be able to sit around and laugh about it, rather than cry, if an avalanche were to happen,” Atkins said.
Tour operators, such as Good Times and High Country, generally don’t travel into avalanche areas because of the risk involved.
The number one goal is safety, and of course, making sure guests are comfortable so they have a good time, Wefing said.
“One time, I had a woman who was so scared to get on the snowmobile and by the end of the trip everyone was calling her hot rod mama. I got an email later and found out she had bought a snowmobile when she got home!”
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