Powder blast: Miles of fast, smooth snowmobile trails await on Grand Mesa
Snowmobiling is freakin’ awesome!
Finally, after a year of hiking, biking and other forms of physical exertion — albeit (mostly) fun and (at times) rewarding exertion for the features department’s 2013 Adventuring Out series — features writer Rachel Sauer and I spent a day sitting on really fast machines with hand-warmers.
It was magical.
Although the Adventuring Out series has concluded, Rachel and I aren’t finished exploring, particularly when a reader named Orville Petersen emails with an offer to take us snowmobiling.
(He read Rachel’s Jan. 16 Trending article about our cross-country skiing trip where she described me as a “grouchy baby bird hatching from a snow egg.” I think he felt sorry for me.)
Orville suggested we try snowmobiling because, like cross-country skiing, it’s a popular winter sport in the area, particularly on Grand Mesa with its established, groomed trail system.
No experience necessary, he added. Thank goodness, because we had none.
In fact, he had all the gear we needed: snowmobiles, helmets and goggles. Just wear appropriate clothes and good boots. (I wore my snowboard boots.)
We set off at 9 a.m. on a recent Saturday for the Mesa Top Trailhead off Colorado Highway 65.
Rachel and I assumed Orville and his wife Bonnie Petersen would each drive a snowmobile and we’d be passengers because we doubted anyone would entrust us with such expensive gear.
We were wrong.
Orville brought four snowmobiles. Rachel and I exchanged quick glances. He would lead, Bonnie would bring up the rear. We were on our own.
We arrived in the parking lot, which was pretty packed with trucks and trailers for 10:30 a.m., and Orville gave safety instructions: Don’t follow too closely, use headlights, hit the orange emergency button to stop the engine if necessary. Then he taught us commonly used hand signals because you can’t talk over the sound of a snowmobile. He also gave us avalanche gear.
Don’t worry, he said. He doubted we’d use it. He just always takes it.
Um ... eh ... OK, Rachel and I said, while strapping trackers over our shoulders.
Then, we took off west on the groomed 22-mile loop from Mesa Top to Lands End.
So. Much. Fun! I forgot about the avalanche talk after about two seconds. I hit 35 miles per hour on a few open stretches.
Orville periodically went off-trail to play. He was gliding and turning across the untracked powder like he was riding a jet ski on a lake.
Rachel and I pretty much rocked the groomed trails to Lands End, so Orville suggested we push things a bit and go off trail through deeper snow.
(Funny story: When we first met Orville, he told us, “If you ain’t getting stuck you ain’t trying.” Oh, silly Orville, we thought.)
We hadn’t gone more than several hundred feet back east from Lands End when I hit a drift, ending up with one leg in the snow as my snowmobile tipped on its side.
That wasn’t the even the worst of it. At another point, my snowmobile was stuck at like a 90-degree angle. I’m not even sure how I did it.
Rachel, too, had a couple side spills.
Getting stuck forced us to wade through piles of deep snow to push, pull, breathe deeply and sweat to help Orville and Bonnie “un-stick” our stuck machines.
Orville, to paraphrase Rachel, must have sensed a disturbance in the force because he quickly suggested we return to the trail and go play in powder in the wide-open meadows.
Good call. There, in the empty fields of snow, far from trees and roads and drifts, Rachel and I unearthed the power of our Polaris sleds. We both topped out at more than 40 mph, blowing through untracked snow. It was one of the most fun experiences I’ve had in the Colorado outdoors.
We worked our way to Alexander Lake Lodge, about two miles east of the Grand Mesa Visitor Center, for lunch. Orville took out a trail map to show us how far we had ridden.
The four of us ended up crossing about 45 miles in nearly four hours, mixing groomed trails with off-trail sweetness. That snowmobile allowed me to access points of Grand Mesa I’d never seen at speeds I’d never hit in anything other than a car.
In Orville’s original email to me, he said snowmobiling “can be a ton of fun” before promising “to make sure you have a good time.”
Mission accomplished, Petersen family. Rachel and I had a blast!