Here at SnoWest
Magazine, we’re the first to admit we didn’t come up with the idea of polling
readers and asking them to ranking things or places or events.
But we liked the idea of asking our readers what their favorite
riding areas are and then attach a value to their experience.
When we started surveying SnoWest readers 11 years ago, asking them to name and then rank
their favorite riding areas in the West in different categories we thought we’d
do it for a handful of years and then try something new.
Not so fast.
Over the years, readers (some who have been with us for
years and some new) have told us they look forward to the Top 15 Trails in the
West rankings every year and some even use the rankings to determine where they
are going to ride the next season. A case in point would be John Isackson, who,
along with his wife, Cassandra, ride in areas listed on the Top 15. Isackson
details his experiences in one of the features in this issue.
Sure, the editors at SnoWest
could come up with our own Top 15. We definitely have our favorites. But there
are only a handful of us and we get to share our opinions plenty enough in
other issues of SnoWest during the
course of the season. Besides, we think it’s a great opportunity for our
readers to share some of their sledding knowledge with the rest of us.
So we send out nearly 2,000 surveys every year and ask
readers to rank their favorites, including giving scores from 1 to 5 (1 being
best) in 10 different categories. We’ve tweaked the categories over the years
and even added a new one to this year’s survey—weather. All the categories are
subjective. Our readers don’t seem to hold back any punches when it comes to
their snowmobile riding experiences. Some areas get great scores and some get
Some years the Top 15 is pretty similar to the year before
while in other years, it gets shaken up.
There’s a new No. 1 this year, Wyoming’s Continental Divide Snowmobile
Trail, which is king of the mountain for only the second time in the 11 year
history of the Top 15 Trails in the West survey.
The CDST edged West Yellowstone,
the perennial favorite among SnoWest readers,
by just one-one hundredth of a point.
The next three spots are a mirror image of last year’s No.
3-5. Island Park, ID,
kept its spot at No. 3, followed by Cooke
City, MT, and the
Snowy Range, WY.
The next five was not a mirror image as only two are back in
the Top 10 as compared to a year ago. That would be Alpine, WY, at No. 7 and Diamond Lake, OR,
at No. 10. The other three moving up into the Top 10 are McCall,
ID (No. 6), Stanley,
ID (No. 8) and Seeley Lake, MT.
The final five see the Big Horns, WY, at No. 11, followed by
No. 12 Cache Valley, UT, No. 13 Grand Lake, CO, No. 14 Baker/Union Counties,
OR, and No. 15 Mt. Bachelor, OR. Mt. Bachelor is the only newcomer this year to the Top
15, bumping Lake Chelan, WA, off the list.
Analyzing the scores shows what we think reflects the snow
conditions across the West, which weren’t anything to brag about last year. On
the 2006 survey, there were four areas that received overall scores under 2.0.
This year it was only three. On the other end of the Top 15, four areas (No.
12-15) received higher (worse) scores than what No. 15 did in 2006. Out of the
nine categories (not considering the new category of weather) we asked SnoWest readers to score, all but
one—service—were higher (again, worse) in 2007 than 2006.
Snow is obviously one of the major determining factors when
it comes to scoring in the Top 15. The locales that get the snow get the
snowmobilers. And the locales that get the snow and the snowmobilers usually
have the trails and services to keep sledders coming back. That’s why you
continue to see many of the same places listed in the Top 15.
While readers see the Top 15 areas with scores in the
exclusive Western Guide to Snowmobiling survey,
there are 30 or so more areas that receive scores. So why don’t those areas
make the Top 15? Not enough votes is usually the reason. The West Yellowstones
and CDSTs and Island Parks again got lots of votes this year whereas Lake Chelan, WA,
which did get some great scores in several of the categories, just didn’t get
enough people voting for the area to keep it in the Top 15.
Snowmobilers are fairly mobile outdoor enthusiasts. If there
is snow in a particular area, they’ll head there to ride. That’s why snowmobile
areas rise and fall on the Top 15. By comparing a Top 15 list from one year to
another, you can just about tell which spot had good snow on a given year and
which ones didn’t have as good of snow.
And that’s why we continue to ask readers to rank their
favorite riding areas—because it’s ever changing and that’s what makes it
So if there’s an area that piques your interest, then give
it a try. We’ve decided that thousands of SnoWest
readers can’t be wrong.