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.
Nova 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 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!
After 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.
Over 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.
Our 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 thick 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:
If you are visiting the area during the summer, than stop by Nova Guides and:
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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