Snowmobiling in the Rockies

As a part of our week long vacation we had booked 5 snowmobiles for a guided tour with Nova Guides into the White River National Forest -what a fun, thrilling, and visually stunning trip! Nova Guides has been providing year-round outdoor recreation for over 25 years. They operate under some special permits in and around the White River National Forest which gives them some unique access to remote and scenic areas where other snowmobiles or off road vehicles are prohibited. That access to such expansive territory also gives them the flexibility to customize a trip to their guest's abilities and personal preferences. We had signed up for a four hour guided tour.

Getting ready to go snowmobiling with Nova GuidesNova Guides works out of two locations and we met them at their largest location which is in the heart of Camp Hale surrounded by majestic mountain peaks, about 25 minutes up into some beautiful mountain terrain about 25 minutes from Vail or Copper Mountain ski resorts. Camp Hale is where the famed 10th Mountain Division trained Trying to catch the Nova guide for deployment during WWII. In fact, some of the nearby ski areas were founded by returning 10th Mountain Division veterans. During our tour we saw various remnants from their training days including machine gun placements on Machine Gun Hill.

After getting fitted for helmets and a snow suit and a quick snowmobile driving lesson, we took off in a cloud of snow flurries trying to keep up with our tour guide. We blazed through the meadow to the base of the mountains and then headed up a narrow tree lined trail to Ptarmigan Pass and over the next four hours we blazed through some beautiful scenic trails from the base camp at 8000 feet to over 13,000 feet crossing open snow covered meadows, along stream beds and forests of aspen and lodge pole pines, up and down both steep and gently rolling terrain, and into some huge bowls with fresh untracked powder. We were driving what looked like brand new 550 cc snowmobiles that would comfortably seat two, had hand warmers, and were faster than I wanted to go on some of those narrow trails. Our guide was on a bigger and faster snowmobile and he didn't hold back - at times we had a hard time staying up with him and we were doing 40 to 50 mph and still had a little throttle left. Loved it!

Our first stop was near the peak of Machine Gun Hill at over 11,000 feet. We took the snowmobiles along the narrow steep ridge (a sheer 1000' drop and prime avalanche territory) as far as our tour guide felt it was safe, then took a short hike by foot to the peak's peninsula . Wow - unbelievable panoramic scenery of the Rockies and several of Colorado's 14,000 foot peaks, Aspen Ski Resort (over 40 miles away), the majestic Maroon Bells, the back bowls of Vail Ski Area, and the Continental Divide. What a Kodak moment.

Parking the snowmobiles to walk to the top of Machine Gun HillHike to the top of Machine Gun HillPart of the majestic view at the top of Machine Gun Hill


In the play area snowmobiling in the rockies with Nova GuidesAfter hearing a little history on Machine Gun Hill and the surrounding vistas, it was back on the snowmobiles and through the trees to our first "play area." Our guide said "follow me" and proceeded to create a huge circle around a couple acres of gently rolling untracked fresh powder. "Go for it, but stay within the circle" was all it took for us to floor it and spend the next 20 minutes racing, jumping, laughing, and having a blast pushing the snowmobiles as fast as they would go (or as fast as we felt comfortable going) through the fresh powder! What a blast! I was sure that the wide sweeping grins on each of our faces would be there permanently.


A rest stop with Nova GuidesOver the next couple hours we blazed some new trails, found another "play area," enjoyed some unbelievably beautiful scenery, and all too soon saw the lodge back at Camp Hale. We covered about 35 miles of trails during our four hour tour plus a few extra miles blazing through the fresh powder and chasing each other up and down the bowl "play areas." If you do rent the snowmobiles without a guide, you have lots of options for different trails of varying lengths and stunning scenery. One of the trails leads into a very quaint town of Red Cliff, where if you have time, you need to stop in at the infamous Mango's bar for a hot chocolate, lunch, or cold drink. If you are an experienced rider, you'll find several advanced and un-maintained trails to explore.

The grandson having a blastOur tour also included a great lunch at the beautiful lodge which was built in the 1930's and has a huge large stone fireplace to warm the toes on cold days, The lodge also houses some interesting history of the 10th Mountain Division, a dining area and large deck with views of Vail's back bowls, Notch Mountain, and four surrounding mountain ranges. We loved the The lodge and fireplace at Nova Guidesthick juicy burgers, chili in a bread bowl, turkey and cheese melt, and fries. And it doesn't get much better than sitting on the deck, in awe of the mountains, sipping a cold beer, and bragging about winning the race in the meadow. After lunch, our 4 year old grandson got to drive his own 50 cc snowmobile - he couldn't stop grinning and telling about his experience to his mom when we returned. He was non-stop enthusiasm which went on for at least 20 minutes!.

During the winter, in addition to guided snowmobile tours, Nova Guides offers:

  • Self guided tours - rent your own snowmobile for a one or two hour Rocky Mountain back country adventure
  • Snowcat tour - if you're not up to the snowmobile adventure or it's really cold, then the snowcoach tour, which is in an enclosed and heated snowcat for up to 13 passengers
  • High performance tour - the ultimate tour for the experienced rider who wants a little more adventure - tour the open terrain, powder fields, and scenery in a new high performance Polaris 600cc 144'' paddle track snowmobile
  • Rocky mountain dinner ride - enjoy a 1 1/2 hour guided snowmobile tour followed by a gourmet dinner at the lodge

If you are visiting the area during the summer, than stop by Nova Guides and:Nova Guide tours in a snow cat

  • Rent an ATV - explore the trails and back country on an hour to half day unguided or guided ATV adventure through the meadows with wildflowers, rushing brooks, and wildlife
  • Catch a trout - gain access to some of the best fly or spin fishing in Colorado - you can float fish or wade fish and all the equipment is provided including transportation
  • Run the rapids - during various times of the year, typically May to October, Nova Guides offer several exciting white water rafting experiences, some of which include rafting the Upper or Gore Canyon section of the Colorado River (Class I - V rapids); the Lower, Upper, or Dowd Chute on Eagle River (Class II - III), or Shoestring Rapids through Glenwood Canyons (Class II - II)
  • Take a Jeep Tour - guides will take you in an open air jeep through the Rockies and up to 12,000 feet with magnificent panoramic scenery and a chance to spot some wildlife and then enjoy a lunch at the lodge - you can take a lunch tour, 3 hour tour, or sunset adventure tour
  • Shoot it up - play a game of paintball under the aspens and pines where the 10th Mountain Division trained - tree bunkers, foxholes, and natural rock barriers add to the fun and challenge
  • Pedal the trails - take a lunch or snack mountain bike tours following the headwaters of the Eagle River with several Kodak moments
  • Hike the Trails - take a guided hike from one to three hours on beginner to advanced trail through the White River National Forest and up to 10,500 feet

Fishing with Nova GuidesJeep tour with Nova GuidesPaintball with Nova GuidesWhite water rafting with Nova Guides

If you can, why not make it an overnighter or weekend adventure and stay in the Pando Cabin adjacent to the Lodge at Camp Hale. The 700 square foot cabins are fully furnished with two bedrooms, one bath, a full kitchen, dining, and living area. Walk out your front door and go on a snowmobile tour, an ATV tour, fishing, hiking, or white water rafting! And when the day is done, enjoy a great meal in the Lodge - can't get much better than that. Visit the Nova Guides Website to learn more.

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