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Colorado

In The Storm's Path

Published online: Nov 09, 2007 Feature
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Just about everyone heard about the snow storms that pummeled Colorado last winter.

Yes, most of the news surrounded how those storms shut down Denver International Airport and crippled the Mile High City.

You don't think those storms just dumped on the Denver metro area do you? Of course not.

Once again many parts of Colorado's Rocky Mountains were blessed with the snow last season.

Of course, when you've got mountains like they do in Colorado, they tend to scrape the snow out of the storm clouds as they fly by.

We say scrape because we're talking big, tall, reach way into the sky mountains. In just about every snowmobiling spot, you start your riding experience at 7,000 feet. In many places that number is 10,000 feet.

The Continental Divide, which snakes its way through Colorado, gives the state some of the tallest mountains anywhere in the West. It's those mountains that give Colorado the distinction of having the highest average elevation of any state in America-6,800 feet, which is higher than many states' tallest mountains.

Colorado's average elevation is thanks to what it calls its Fourteeners, many of which are stretched out along the Continental Divide. Colorado is home to more Fourteeners than any other state in the West. What are Fourteeners? Those are mountains which are 14,000 feet or higher. And Colorado has 58 mountain peaks that stretch more than 14,000 feet into the sky, led by Mt. Elbert at 14,433 feet. The biggest cluster of 14ers is in the center of the state, with another bunch in the southwest and a smaller set in southcentral Colorado.

Storm clouds hit Colorado, park over the Continental Divide and dump. And dump.

Go ahead and look at the riding elevations listed for each of the areas below. No, those are misprints-those are the real deal. So not only does Colorado get the snow, it has the gnarly terrain to go with it.

An extensive network of nearly 3,000 miles of trails leads to some of the best backcountry riding you'll find anywhere. There are powder bowls to play in, mountains to climb and boondocking everywhere. And, for the most part, where there are mountains, you can ride. Two dozen trail systems stretch from the north end of the state all the way down to the Colorado/New Mexico border. As a general rule of thumb, any riding areas close to Denver are pretty busy. And you're usually fighting the "ski" traffic-all those downhillers trying to get to the slopes.

The farther away you get from the Mile High City, the riding becomes less crowded. It's possible to have entire riding areas to yourself, not only never seeing another sledder but also no tracks. There are lots of snowmobilers in Colorado and add to that the fact that the state is the first one with substantial mountains sledders from the lower Midwest hit on their way west and you can have quite a crowd. But because there is so much riding country, the crowds are pretty well dispersed, except in the most popular riding spots.

While the distinct and separate riding areas are spread all up and down the Continental Divide, they do share some things in common: lots of snow (usually regardless of where you are riding in Colorado); steep terrain punctuated with lots of wide open meadows and groves of Quaking Aspen trees; and excellent riding conditions because the temps are cold enough to keep the snow from becoming rock hard but not so cold that the moisture evaporates away. Colorado has just the right mix of sun, snow and temps. Add to that the awesome scenery of this state.

While we acknowledge the major riding areas below-those with groomed trail systems-don't think that those are the only spots you can scoot around on a sled.

One area we would like to point out, one that kind of gets lost within another area (Gould) is State Forest State Park, which has about 50 miles of groomed trails. Most of the pertinent information is listed under the Gould section below. It's way up in northern Colorado, northeast of Rocky Mountain National Park and east of the town of Walden. It's not a big system, but you can have some good times there. For more information, contact the state park at (970) 723-8366. We've also added another established riding area, Norwood, which is in the southwest part of Colorado in San Miguel and Montrose counties.

There's also a lot of country on BLM land that, when the snow conditions are right, you can sled. For more information, log on to www.blm.gov/co/st/en.html.

Snowmobilers can thank the ski industry for one thing in Colorado-making it easy to get to riding areas. Interstate, state and local highways provide easy access to Colorado's snowmobile areas and even the state's biggest cities aren't too far from riding spots. That also means there is usually plenty of services around to eat, sleep and buy fuel.

The state snowmobile association's website (www.coloradosledcity.com) is an excellent source of information.

 

Guide

 

Colorado Travel www.colorado.com

Road Conditions 303-639-1111

Colorado State Snowmobile Association www.coloradosledcity.com

Groomed Trails 2,700 miles

Number of Registered Snowmobiles 36,500

Highest Point Mount Elbert (14,433 ft)

Greatest Average Annual Snowfall Wolf Creek Pass 434.8 in.

Record Winter Snowfall Wolf Creek Pass 807 in.

Coldest Recorded Temperature Maybell minus-61 degrees F

 

Clark

Elevation 9,400-10,600

Snowfall 300 inches

Groomed Trails 100 miles

Full-Service Town Steamboat Springs

Nearest Airport Steamboat Springs (30 miles)

Information Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association 970-879-0880

 

Craig

Elevation 7,000-10,000

Snowfall 250-300 inches

Groomed Trails 105 miles

Full-Service Town Craig

Nearest Airport Steamboat Springs (17 miles)

Information Craig Chamber of Commerce 800-864-4405

 

Gould

Elevation 9,000-11,000

Snowfall 250 inches

Groomed Trails 70 miles

Full-Service Town Walden

Nearest Airport Steamboat Springs (64 miles)

Information North Park Chamber of Commerce 970-723-4600

 

Grand Lake

Elevation 7,000-10,000

Prime Season Dec-Apr

Snowfall 150-250 inches

Groomed Trails 150 miles

Full-Service Town Grand Lake

Nearest Airport Denver, CO (102 miles)

Information Grand Lake Chamber of Commerce 800-531-1019

 

Rabbit Ears

Elevation 8,000-10,000

Snowfall 300 inches

Groomed Trails 250 miles

Full-Service Town Steamboat Springs, Kremmling

Nearest Airport Steamboat Springs

Information Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association 970-879-0880, Kremmling Chamber of Commerce 877-573-6654

 

Winter Park

Elevation 8,800-12,000

Snowfall 300 inches

Groomed Trails 120 miles

Full-Service Town Winter Park, Fraser

Nearest Airport Denver (70 miles)

Information Winter Park/Fraser Valley Chamber of Commerce 800-903-7275

 

Meeker

Elevation 7,800-10,400

Snowfall 225-250 inches

Groomed Trails 78 miles

Full-Service Town Meeker

Nearest Airport Steamboat Springs (87 miles)

Information Meeker Chamber of Commerce 970-878-5510

 

Rifle

Elevation 7,800-10,400

Snowfall 250-300 inches

Groomed Trails 80 miles

Full-Service Town Rifle

Nearest Airport Grand Junction (60 miles)

Information Rifle Chamber of Commerce 800-842-2085

 

Grand Mesa

Elevation 8,200-11,234

Snowfall 300-420 inches

Groomed Trails 200 miles

Full-Service Town Glenwood Springs, Grand Junction, Delta

Nearest Airport Grand Junction (20 miles)

Information Grand Junction Visitor and Convention Bureau 800-962-2547, Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association 888-4GLENWOOD, Delta Chamber of Commerce 970-874-8616

 

Vail Pass

Elevation 10,549-12,600

Snowfall 350 inches

Full-Service Town Frisco, Vail

Nearest Airport Denver (100 miles)

Information Vail Valley 970-476-1000

 

Breckenridge

Elevation 10,000-12,400

Snowfall 225-275 inches

Groomed Trails 40 miles

Full-Service Town Breckenridge

Nearest Airport Denver (85 miles)

Information Summit County Chamber of Commerce 800-530-3099

 

Leadville

Elevation 9,600-13,600

Snowfall 250-300 inches

Full-Service Town Leadville

Nearest Airport Denver (100 miles)

Information Leadville/Lake County Chamber of Commerce 888-532-3845

 

Gunnison

Elevation 7,809-11,000

Snowfall 250 inches

Groomed Trails 50 miles

Full-Service Town Gunnison, Crested Butte

Nearest Airport Gunnison

Information Gunnison County Tourism 800-814-7988

 

Chaffee County

Elevation 8,000-12,500

Snowfall 250-400 inches

Groomed Trails 100 miles plus

Full-Service Town Salida, Buena Vista

Nearest Airport Pueblo (97 miles)

Information Buena Vista Chamber of Commerce 719-395-6612, Heart of the Rockies 877-772-5432

 

Ophir Creek

Elevation 9,000-12,000

Snowfall 100-200 inches

Groomed Trails 76 miles

Full-Service Town Pueblo

Nearest Airport Pueblo

Information Pueblo Chamber of Commerce 800-233-3446

 

Norwood

Elevation 7,500-14,000

Snowfall 250-300 inches

Groomed Trails 120 miles

Full-Service Town Norwood

Nearest Airport Telluride (33 miles)

Information Norwood Chamber of Commerce 800-282-5988

 

Silverton

Elevation 10,400-13,600

Snowfall 200-350 inches

Groomed Trails 148 miles

Full-Service Town Silverton

Nearest Airport Durango (50 miles)

Information Silverton Area Chamber of Commerce 800-752-4494

 

Lake City

Elevation 8,600-14,000

Snowfall 300-350 inches

Groomed Trails 125 miles

Full-Service Town Lake City

Nearest Airport Gunnison (52 miles)

Information Lake City/Hinsdale Chamber of Commerce 800-569-1874

 

Creede

Elevation 8,800-12,100

Snowfall 250-300 inches

Groomed Trails 96 miles

Full-Service Town Creede

Nearest Airport Alamosa (70 miles)

Information Creede/Mineral County Chamber of Commerce 800-327-2102

 

South Fork