Snowmobiling for the First Time at Winter Park, Colorado
By Brian K. Preston, DCSki Contributor

Author Brian Preston gets ready to hop on his snowmobile.
Gased up and ready to go. Author Brian Preston gets ready to hop on his snowmobile. Photo by M. Scott Smith.
When I first thought about taking a snowmobiling tour through the mountains on a recent visit to Winter Park, Colorado, I was hesitant. After all, it would take away from time that I could be skiing. But after thre full days of skiing, I figured it was time to give my legs a break and try something new.

DCSki’s Editor, Scott, and myself signed up for a 1.5-hour daytime snowmobiling tour as part of Winter Park’s Tour Center. Neither of us had been before nor knew how to operate a snowmobile. But the operation of a snowmobile is really simple. You have handlebars to steer, a brake like that on a bike, and a throttle which is like a bicycle brake but works in reverse (squeeze to go, squeeze hard to really go!)

The cost of the tour was $45 per person/snowmobile, with an additional $10 insurance option available (useful if you happen to wrap the snowmobile around a tree.) Riders are required to wear a helmet and are provided goggles. The handlebars on the snowmobile are heated, so it’s possible to ride without gloves even on cold days. The tour began with a few minutes of instruction and then we were off.

I must say that I found snowmobiling to be a blast! The terrain on the Winter Park tour was pretty easy going, although we ran into a lot of up and downs or “Whoop-de-dos” as my mountain biking comrades in New England call them. That put a limit on the speed I felt comfortable going. Now I like to go fast, but within my control. Going fast on a straight away is fun but gets boring fast, so the corners were the exhilirating part of racing through the trees, even if the pace had to be kept down. Now you can take any corner at a slow speed, but COME ON, where’s the fun in that? To take the corners fast you have to throw your body weight around like you see motorcyclists doing. I was still just starting to get the hang of it by the end of the tour, but had the basic skills from mountain biking.

The tour itself went up through terrain near the Vasquez mountain section of the resort. Most of the tour went along fire and access roads or summertime moutain biking trails. The snow had been packed down by previous snowmobiles and, in some places, grooming.

The tour began at the base of Winter Park mountain with a sharp turn and a path straight up a pretty steep hill, which was incidentally the width of the snowmobile. A little daunting at first, it helped me get a good feel for the machine quickly. Traveling down fire roads with bumpy snow worn by previous snowmobiles, you quickly learn how to let your legs absorb most of the shock. The tour guide did stop at several locations with great views of the surrounding mountains and valley, although I thought the top of Parsenn Bowl (accessible on skis via chairlift, but not part of the snowmobile tour) had the best overall view of the Continental Divide.

A snowmobile tour allows you to explore scenic, snow-covered trails through the woods.
Off the beaten path. A snowmobile tour allows you to explore scenic, snow-covered trails through the woods. Photo by M. Scott Smith.
Since Scott and I were the only ones on the tour, we spent a lot more time on the snowmobiles than taking in the sites or waiting for other tour members. The tour guide was pretty cool about letting us do what we wanted. For example, the guide decided to deviate from the normal route and we explored some new trails.

Throughout the toor, the guide described certain features in the surrounding landscape such as a huge water pipe that runs from the Rocky Mountains into Denver, providing a large amount of Denver’s water supply. We also stopped at a cabin maintained by the National Forest Service where people can stay when back-country camping. On the return trip, we went down a wide path with lots of powder; the guide encouraged us to try blowing through the powder as long as we didn’t go too far outside our ability level. That was by far the most fun. Cutting back between the two packed trails through the fresh powder or going up a short steep embankment and zipping down the other side was the highlight of the tour for me.

All in all, I can’t wait to try snowmobiling again, although I think I’m ready to try renting a private snowmobile from various rental/tour shops in the area. These other locations advertised rentals of more powerful snowmobiles and options to take a tour or just go off on your own, although with restrictions I imagine. The tour guide mentioned one tour up to the bowl areas of one of the surrounding mountains and then playing around in fresh powder when possible. If you do intend to go snowmobiling, I’d recommend right after it snows, although it’s tough not to head right for the ski slopes when its a powder day.

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