Vast network of trails available to snowmobilers | SteamboatToday.com

Vast network of trails available to snowmobilers

Saddleback Ranch offers guided snowmobile tours across pristine Yampa Valley landscapes.

— Strapping on skis or a snowboard isn't the only way to enjoy Steamboat's trademark Champagne powder. A growing number of snowmobilers also take the region's meadows and hills to get their winter thrill in the outdoors.

Thanks to rolling terrain, vast tracts of public land and world-class snowfall, Steamboat offers some of the best snowmobiling in the country, drawing sledders from across the nation. While some people come here to glide on the slopes of Mount Werner, others come to ride.

"It's truly world-class," says Jason Stanhope, manager of snowmobile retailer Steamboat Powersports. "It has everything snowmobilers look for in a great destination — abundant snowfall and wide open terrain."

The snowy mountains of the Park Range attract thousands of snowmobilers each winter, from novices taking part on commercial tours to some of the sport's most elite and dedicated riders (pro snowmobiler Chris Brown of Slednecks fame calls the area home). In fact, don't be surprised to share Rabbit Ears Pass with Winter X Games athletes stocking footage for their next film segment.

For rookies, outfitters across the valley offer the chance to experience everything from open meadows and diverse down-valley terrain west of Steamboat to the timbered, alpine terrain of the high country near Steamboat.

Various snowmobile organizations have also banded together in recent years to groom a vast network of trails in the region. Routt Powder Riders (www.routtpowderriders.com) grooms more than 100 miles of trails on Rabbit Ears and Buffalo passes; Steamboat Lake Snow Club grooms the area around Steamboat Lake, north of Columbine to the Wyoming border; the Northwest Colorado Snowmobile Club maintains more than 100 miles of groomed trails in the Black Mountain and California Park areas of the Elkhead Mountain Range north of Craig; and the White River Snowmobile Club marks, grooms and maintains nearly 200 miles of snowmobile trails in eastern Rio Blanco County.

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The only caveat: respect key non-motorized areas such as the west summit of Rabbit Ears Pass and the Soda Creek drainage north of Dry Lake Campground on Buffalo Pass. Snowmobiles also are prohibited in all wilderness areas.

Snowmobile outfitters

Elkhorn Outfitters: 970-824-7392, http://www.elkhornoutfitters.com

Rocky Mountain Rentals: 970-627-9673, www. snowmobile-central.com

Saddleback Ranch: 970-879-3711, http://www.saddlebackranch.net

Hahn’s Peak Roadhouse: 970-879-4404. http://www.hahnspeakroadhouse.com

Steamboat Snowmobile Tours/High Mountain Tours: 980-879-6500, http://www.steamboatsnowmobile.com

More information

Maps of the trail systems, highlighting winter range game closures and motorized boundaries, are available at the U.S. Forest Service office (925 Weiss Drive, (970) 870-2299), as are free season pass permits for the Buffalo Pass Backcountry Winter Recreation Area (day-use permits are also available at the Dry Lake Campground trailhead).

Snowmobiles operating on public lands in Colorado must be registered or permitted by Colorado State Parks. Out-of-state residents must purchase a $25 Colorado Non-Resident OHV permit. Resident registration is required annually (available from OHV dealers and Colorado State Parks locations). Non-resident permits are available online, at State Parks offices or anywhere Colorado hunting and fishing licenses are sold.