Lost snowmobilers safe in North Routt

Group of 13 from Chicago area became disoriented near Forest Service Road 409

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— Thirteen snowmobilers who reported themselves lost in North Routt County on Tuesday afternoon made their way back to safety at about 4 p.m., according to Routt County Search and Rescue.

The snowmobilers were traveling together. A member of the group called Steamboat Lake Outfitters, where the group is staying, to report the group lost at about 2:30 p.m., but the call was quickly cut off by poor cellular reception, Search and Rescue incident commander Darrel Levingston said.

"They said 'We're lost, send help.' And that was it," Levingston said.

The conditions of the 13 people were unknown, as was their location, though they were believed to have set off on Forest Service Road 409, which takes a big loop from the Hahn's Peak area toward Farwell Mountain, Levingston said.

Search and Rescue made attempts to contact the group Tuesday afternoon, to learn more about their location and condition before making any further plans to assist them. They were able to get one of the snowmobilers on the line with Stan Wagner of Rocky Mountain Rental, and Wagner was able to talk them out, Levingston said.

"He knows the area better than anyone," he said.

The lost snowmobilers were all adults from the Chicago area, with ages of about 30 to 55, Levingston said. They had left Steamboat Lake Outfitters at about 9 a.m., and all arrived back safe and sound shortly after 4 p.m., Levingston said.

"It sounded like they never really got off of Forest (Service) Road 409," Levingston said. "There's a lot of side roads, and if you don't see the signs, and the visibility is poor, it's real easy to get onto one of those side roads and head out to the rest of world."

Search and Rescue mobilized a snowmobile team in case the group ran into any further trouble or the weather took a turn, Levingston said. However, the group arrived back at Steamboat Lake Outfitters before Search and Rescue's team left Steamboat Springs, he said.

Before Search and Rescue was even contacted, Routt County Communications dispatchers left a voicemail on one of the snowmobiler's cell phones, though the snowmobilers were unable to get in touch with them because of spotty signal coverage, Levingston said.

But they were able to respond to a text message from Levingston within about 15 minutes, he said.

"A lot of times the signal strength of a text message can get through where a voice won't," Levingston said. "People in the backcountry, if you can't get through on your cell phone, try sending a text. That's actually worked several times for us in the past year."

- To reach Melinda Dudley, call 871-4203 or e-mail mdudley@steamboatpilot.com

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