Traction Action

All-terrain vehicle tours provide access to North Routt's best views

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Brian Lowerr returns muddied and grinning from an ATV tour up Hahn's Peak.

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A group of intrepid ATV riders at Steamboat Lake Outfitters prepare for their trip up Hahn's Peak on Thursday as clouds loom in the background.

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Steamboat Lake Outfitters head ATV guide Brad Somers gives a little background history at the site of the Iron Springs gold mine on Hahn's Peak during a Thursday commercial tour.

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Roseanne Paul finds herself a long way from Iowa on the rocky descent from Hahn's Peak.

Private users: 'Tis the season

As private ATV riders take to the trails this fall, Steve McCone, trails, wilderness and special use manager for the Medicine Bow/Routt National Forest, has a few important reminders for ATV users:

- All motorized trails west of Routt County Road 129 will be closed starting Oct. 1.

- Motor vehicles longer than 50 inches in length, including jeeps and side-by-side vehicles, are prohibited on ATV trails.

- Updated Forest Service maps detailing designated ATV trails are available at the Steamboat Hahn's Peak/Bears Ears Ranger District office, 925 Weiss Drive. Call 879-1870.

Citing problems with users straying from designated motorized trails on the Elkhorn and Wyoming trails, McCone is not alone in his promotion of responsible ATV use.

Corey Corbett, volunteer secretary for the Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition, said fall is an important time to spread the message of his group's "Stay the Trail" campaign, as hunters often go off-road for game retrieval. Corbett also stressed the importance of safety education.

"Now that ATV sales have surpassed off-road motorcycle sales, there's the perception that they're easy to operate," Corbett said, reiterating safety priorities such as limiting ATV use to a single passenger and ensuring users wear eye protection and a helmet.

For more safety information, in addition to resources such as lists and printable maps of designated trails on Colorado's federal and state lands, visit www.cohvco.org and www.staythetrail....

— The Hahn's Peak pyramid that rises above Steamboat Lake beckons visitors and locals to soak in the sweeping view from its summit. For those who want to experience the view - now amplified by the fading shades of fall colors - but would prefer not to hike, all-terrain vehicles provide quick access to just below the mountain's summit.

Although numerous public motorized trails crisscross the Routt National Forest surrounding Hahn's Peak, Steamboat Lake Outfitters - located 24 miles north of Steamboat Springs on Routt County Road 129 - can take its commercial ATV tours all the way to a turnaround point at tree line, just shy of the peak's summit.

With threatening dark clouds on the horizon on a recent Thursday afternoon, SLO guides Kevin Neuwirth and Brad Somers prepared a group of 12 riders for a ride to the peak, a two-hour trip.

Eager to get outside after a week of corporate seminars in Steamboat concerning home warranty enrollment, the group took no time grabbing helmets and picking out a 250-cc Honda FourTrax Recon from SLO's fleet of 15 ATVs. After listening to Somers run through safety and operational instructions, we headed out single-file, splashing through mud puddles in aspen groves before making our way up the rocky trails at the foot of the mountain.

Stopping for a break at the Iron Spr-ings gold mine, the sun filled the valley between our vantage point and the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area to the east.

"This is definitely God's county," Kansas City resident Carl Jackson said.

Other riders were much more absorbed in the immediate mechanical thrills of the trip than in the scenery.

"A little more mud would be good," Tracey Miller said.

Getting up the final and steepest pitch to the base of the barren summit without incident, the group was ready to roll back down as the skies darkened and the wind and light rain hit the exposed perch.

"It was a lot better coming down," New Jersey resident Jerry Guzman said about his first ATV experience. "You build your confidence going up, and coming down you can put it into third gear and really get it going and go be a kid for a little while."

Back in the valley flats, the group members certainly found their riding poise, and Miller wasn't the only one seeking out the mud. Returning from the trip, many riders sported the true sign of ATV satisfaction - a toothy dirt smile.

"It was beautiful, unbelievable scenery," said Chris Utrie as he cleaned the mud off his teeth with a cold beer. "Everybody was worried they'd keep us corralled in a pasture with some rocks and curves."

Somers was not surprised by the group's sentiment, saying in the two years he's been guiding trips he has yet to get negative feedback from his clients.

"It's an exhilarating thing for these people," said Somers, who enjoys the variety of each trip, especially the longer half-day and full-day tours up Farwell Mountain and the expanse of national forest trails north of Hahn's Peak. "We can go higher in the valley and there's endless roads. We can go all the way up to Wyoming."

Don Markley, who started the outfitter's ATV tours 15 years ago, still recalls the trips that made a lasting impact on his customers he has watched return year after year.

"The repeat business is incredible, but it's not a hot rod deal," Markley reassured. "We regulate the speed so people don't get hurt. It's the type of terrain you can't go very fast on anyway."

While Markley said they have passed their busiest season of the year, from July 10 to Aug. 20, he assured prospective riders that the outfitter will guide tours on the countless miles of motorized trails, which the Forest Service permits them to operate on, through the fall. Call 879-4404 or visit www.steamboatoutfitters.com for pricing and details.

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