Whether it’s your first time on a snowmobile or you’re ready to explore the wilderness on your own machine, there are plenty of opportunities to ride across the snow in Colorado.
“Colorado has too many beautiful spots for snowmobiling,” said Ed Calhoun, president of the Colorado Snowmobile Association, a nonprofit that supports safety and conservation for snowmobile activity. Snowmobiling has been steadily growing in popularity in Colorado. Colorado Parks and Wildlife issues snowmobile registrations and shows that 29,505 machines were licensed in 2022, up from 24,789 in 2020.
The CSA is composed of 36 clubs. Its members groom about 3,000 miles of trails which also are used for Nordic skiing, dog sledding, snow biking and other winter fun. The CSA website has details on current conditions, where to take safety lessons, and the ins and outs of buying a permit.
Here’s an introductory look at this winter activity in Colorado.
Snowmobile tours with something extra
Why not make the most of a snowmobile day and do more than just ride? T-Lazy-Z Ranch in Aspen offers the Klondike Lunch Tour and the Majestic Lunch Tour. The Klondike tour follows a groomed trail in the White River National Forest to the Klondike cabin where a gourmet lunch awaits. (OK, the lunch features cheeseburgers, but they’re really good ones!) Kids as young as 4 can ride. Snowmobile drivers must be at least 18 years old and have a valid driver’s license.
Although Independence Pass is closed to road traffic in winter, the Majestic Tour leads you to the town of Independence near the Continental Divide. The Lost Man Cabin welcomes you with a lunch and spectacular views. This ride is best for those with some experience riding. Riders must be at least 7.
You can combine a nice hot springs soak with your snowmobiling adventure at Mount Princeton Hot Springs near Salida. The concierge at Mount Princeton can arrange a guided snowmobile tour with a local operator. Upon your return, slide into the warm waters for a soothing soak.
Steamboat Snowmobile Tours offers First Tracks tours on Rabbit Ears Pass, which can be a real treat on a powder day. It also offers four-hour Backcountry Adventure tours that take riders to the Continental Divide and include lunch. White Mountain Snowmobile Tours in Leadville combines snowmobiling with ziplining. The day starts with ziplining, then it’s time for lunch in town. You’ll round out the day with an afternoon of snowmobiling. Keep in mind that Leadville is 10,158 feet above sea level and you’ll be riding higher than that during this day of adventure.
Rent and go
Many companies rent snowmobiles, so you can explore Colorado’s winter wonderland on your own even if you don’t own a snow machine. This also means you are in charge of your own safety, so keep these safety tips in mind:
1. Call ahead and ask what gear is included with your rental. Snowsuit or bib? Heated handlebars? Goggles? Gloves? If they’re not included, arrange to rent or buy them for your trip.
2. Take an avalanche safety course. Carry necessary gear, including a snow shovel, and know how to complete a rescue. Avalanche risk varies from day to day. It’s up to you to research current conditions. You should set out with an alternative plan in mind in case you venture into an area where the avalanche risk appears too great.
3. Bring water and sunscreen.
4. Have reliable communication, which probably means something other than a cellphone.
Don’t put yourself, your trip mates and rescue teams at risk. Most rescue teams include many volunteers. They risk their own safety when they attempt to save people who are stuck or lost.
“Some people want to go to the expert areas right off,” Calhoun said. “Normally that’s when you get in a problem with this stuff, and avalanches are the Number One danger for snowmobiling.”
Popular spots for snowmobilers include Leadville, Grand Lake, Vail Pass Winter Recreation Area and Rabbit Ears Pass near Steamboat Springs.
Grand Lake is considered Colorado’s snowmobiling capital and features more than 300 miles of trails for every level of snowmobiler. There are another 700 miles of trails in surrounding Grand County. Snow machines are allowed in only a small area of Rocky Mountain National Park, but the region’s trails offer views of the park’s famous peaks and grandeur. It’s legal to ride a snowmobile in Grand Lake, provided the streets have enough packed snow.
There are numerous outfitters to rent from in Grand Lake, and some lodges have snowmobiles available for rent.
The Rabbit Ears Pass area offers trails across meadows and through snow-covered trees as you ride up and over the mountainous terrain.
“I live in Steamboat,” Calhoun said. “People come here to ski, and they ski like crazy at high altitude, and then have to rest for a day or two. During that time, they can go snowmobiling with their families.”
As with all winter sports, research conditions before you set out, wear appropriate gear, and always tell someone reliable where you are going and when you plan to return.
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