Snowmobiling in Grand Lake
As someone who has lived in Florida most of my adult life, I had forgotten the experience of snow and mountains.
When a friend with a condominium in Grand Lake, Colo., invited me out for a visit one winter, I jumped at the chance. I had never been to the Rockies. The closest I had been to mountains were the Smokies, mere cousins of what stretches across Colorado, Montana and points northward.
As I drove up from Denver westward, the Rockies greeted me in the distance. Since I had flown into Denver International and was driving a rental, the altitude also greeted me, first with Denver’s famed mile of height, then more thousands as I headed up U.S. 40, across Berthoud Pass, through Winter Park, Fraser and Granby.
As I got closer and higher, the view was, quite literally, leaving me breathless.
Grand Lake sits at 8,369 feet, right on the western edge of the Rocky Mountain National Park.
My friends, already long acclimated, suggested I walk a little slower and breathe a little deeper. They also suggested I take advantage of the November winter in Grand Lake and hit the road – on a rented snowmobile.
After all, they noted in a brochure on the coffee table, Grand Lake promotes itself as “The Snowmobile capital of the Rockies.”
Given the dull roar in the background, that seemed true. With a population of only around 500 permanent residents, everybody seemed to have a snowmobile or two. In fact, during the winter, snowmobiles are allowed on Grand Lake’s village streets. Grocery shopping and boutique browsing took on a new meaning.
I called one of the local rental outfits. I was told I needed my own goggles and gloves, or I could buy them at the store. They would provide the thermal suit, motorcycle helmet, boots, a full tank of gas and a map.
I had heavy winter gloves. I borrowed the goggles. The only other thing I needed was a valid driver’s license and a credit card. They added that I had to be over 21 and under 400 pounds. No problem on both counts.
When I got to the rental store, I confessed I had never ridden a snowmobile in my life. Easy, the clerk said. He showed me how to work the controls. He took me outside, put me on a machine, watched me start it and put it in gear, and handed me that promised map.
“Have fun,” he said and started to walk back inside and out of the below-freezing temperatures.
“All by myself?” I asked, somewhat unsure.
“That’s what the map is for.”
It turns out, I had stumbled upon the only town in the Colorado Rockies, perhaps in all the Rockies, that allows snowmobiles to be rented to first-timers who are then allowed to solo. Other towns require visitors to wait until a group is formed and a guide is provided.
But not here. The map detailed more than 85 miles of groomed trails, thanks to the Grand Lake Trail Groomers. Every year, the map said, they plot out and mark the trails up and down Grand Lake and Grand County, even up to the entrance of the closed Rocky Mountain National Park and out along Grand Lake, Shadow Mountain Lake and Lake Granby.
And they maintain the trails, repairing weather and wear, from Nov. 16 to April 15 (the true snowmobiling season), weather permitting. It’s always weather permitting up here in the Rockies, I learned.
I turned on the snowmobile, felt the vibration as it roared to life, and steered myself tentatively toward the exit out of town.
The first few yards were rough, with moguls and divots left by snowmobiles that had gone ahead of me already this winter. Without really looking at the map, I motored out of town, up slight inclines and into the countryside.
I was immediately alone. There were no other snowmobiles in sight, and when I paused from time to time and killed the engine to take in the scene, the silence was unbroken.
For the next hour and a half, I barely looked at the map. Instead, whenever I came to a fork in the road, I took the one most traveled. Occasionally, another snowmobiler would come along and we would wave and nod as we passed. If the path was too narrow, one of us would pull to the side to allow the other to get by.
Once, I pulled too far to the right and nosed into a snow bank. My machine didn’t have reverse and it took me 10 minutes of maneuvering, tugging and cursing to get my 400-plus-punned snowmobile unstuck.
But I did, and with 30 minutes left on my timed ride – to be sure I didn’t run out of gas – I headed home, the snowmobile vibrating with its low rumble, the air crisp and clean, my solo snowmobiling ride exhilarating.
PAGE 3-4 GEAR GUIDE
IF YOU GO:
Men’s Mammut Stoney GTX Thermo Jacket, $475
Features 2 layer Gore-Tex providing both windproof and waterproof protection for the worst winter conditions. This jacket also features synthetic insulation to keep you warm on the coldest of days. Multiple features include detachable powder skirt, detachable, helmet compatible hood, underarm ventilation and multiple pockets for all your gear.
Men’s Mammut Cruise HS Thermo Pant, $250
Paired up with the Mammut Stoney jacket in the high visible color Sprout this is an insulated, windproof, and waterproof pant with adjustable waist, belt loops and multiple pockets, including a leg pocket suitable for maps.
Men’s IceBreaker Oasis Half Zip, $99.99
The Men’s Oasis Long Sleeve Half Zip is the ultimate do-everything base layer. Built from our soft, luxurious 200gm merino jersey fabric, Oasis keeps you warm in cool weather and breathes well as you heat up. And you can open the half zip for instant cooling on the fly. To ensure comfort on the move, the Oasis Long Sleeve Half Zip has offset shoulder seams, set-in sleeves and flatlock stitching throughout, plus a slightly longer bottom hem in back. It’s a good thing merino resists odor so well, because you’ll want to wear this shirt for every activity, day after day.
Men’s IceBreaker Oasis Legless, $79.99
A versatile merino base layer bottom in a mid-calf design, the Oasis Legless is designed for use with ski boots, mountain boots and other high-cuff winter footwear. The short-leg design eliminates painful bunching, and our lightweight 200gm, 100% merino fabric offers super-soft, next-to-skin comfort, incredible breathability and natural odor resistance. Flatlock seams prevent irritation during high-intensity days outside.
Men’s Giro Axis Goggle, $180
The Axis™ frameless design features an elegant new quick-change lens system and clean, bold style. Four self-locating magnets assist in lightning-fast lens replacement and four snap pins keep the lens securely locked in place. The medium fit accommodates a wide range of face shapes while boasting an impressively wide EXV field of vie w. The Axis includes two of the best lenses in the business with premium VIVID lenses with Optics by ZEISS (one sun/ all-conditions lens and one Infrared storm/low-light lens).
Men’s Hestra Fall Line 3-Finger Short Freeride Gloves, $150
Made of supple cowhide aniline for added comfort and outseams for increased comfort and superior pole grip.
Woman’s Helly Hansen Powder Queen insulated Jacket, $375
This waterproof, windproof and breathable jacket is the perfect outerwear piece for snowmobiling. It has Primaloft insulation and an H2FLOW system to regulate your temperature. It also includes a “LIFE POCKET” feature that preserves your battery on electronics in cold environments. With the high visibility fluorescent color pops on the hood, this jacket will not just keep you warm but safe too!
Woman’s Helly Hansen Switch Pant, $225
Add a matching high visibility Neon Coral switch pant to your outfit. This pant has HellyTech performance, 2 way stretch and 60grams of primaloft insulation.
Woman’s Kari Traa Rose H/Z, $109.95
An icon of the Scandinavian winter, Kari Traa Rose base layers provide maximum warmth and are perfect for building up on cold days. The Rose Hood H/Z has a classy, feminine design and is made from super fine, 100 percent Merino wool with 4-way stretch. It is wonderfully soft on the skin, breathable and naturally odor-resistant. Thinner side panels under the arms and a half zip with a high collar increase breathability. A “must have” base layer.
Woman’s Kari Traa Rose Pant, $99.95
An icon of the Scandinavian winter, Kari Traa Rose base layers provide maximum warmth and are perfect for building up on cold days. The Rose Pant is tight fitting with a classy, feminine design and is made from super fine, 100 percent Merino wool with 4-way stretch. It is wonderfully soft on the skin, breathable and naturally odor-resistant. Thinner side panels increase breathability and a strong elastic waistband keeps the pants snugly in place. A “must have” base layer.
Woman’s Smith I/OS Goggle, $200
The compact frame and smaller face fit of the Smith I/OS packs in as much performance as any large fitting goggle. The interchangeable lens system makes switching lenses easy, while 5X™ anti-fog technology keeps the goggle fog free. Technology is not sacrificed for the small fit you need, so your goggles are tuned for endless powder laps.
Woman’s Swany Black Hawk Mittens, $150
The new Swany Black adds the comfort with technology. Aerodyne Construction enhances your grip with less stress points for improved comfort and durability.