By Vickie Saewert
We arrived at Grand Lake, CO, on a Friday evening and settled in at our beautiful lodge, the Gateway Inn.
This week we would be riding with my husband Jeff’s sister Shawn and her husband Steve. On Monday two more experienced riders, Paul and Danny would join us. We visited with Shawn and Steve and relaxed for the evening. This was their first time to Grand Lake and our fourth. It looked like there was good snow and I was excited for tomorrow’s excitement.
This morning we went down to Spirit Lake Polaris where we had snow checked two Polais 800 Dragons, mine a 155-inch track and Jeff’s a 163. Spirit Lake had been holding them since fall for us. I was very excited about how great my sled looked and noticed that the Polaris dealership had already customized mine with the red windshield I had bought to add a little girl “bling.” The dealership was very accommodating to us, making sure everything was ready from sleds to bibs.
I had been very nervous about Jeff selling my previous snowmobile, a 2003 800 RMK. I liked the way it hugged the trails and I was afraid the new suspension and much higher seating of the 800 Dragon would seem tippy on the trails to me. My husband Jeff knows my abilities and limitations and he insisted that I would love the new sled.
I was pretty stiff starting out on the trails knowing this would be a totally different ride. I kept it slow not wanting to skid off the trail around a corner. By about 15 minutes into our ride I was very relaxed. OK Jeff, you were right and I was wrong. I am loving this sled. When we found our first powder meadow I was the first in our group to get stuck. Why? Too timid with the throttle, which would also get me stuck one more time that day. My husband has said over and over not to worry about getting stuck because “if you aren’t getting stuck, you just aren’t having enough fun.” Carving in the powder and laying it on its side was easier than ever. The balance on this sled is amazing and I can feel my confidence rising as the day goes on. Once I was a little too confident and followed Jeff up some very deep and steep terrain and got myself buried. A little more throttle might have got me through it but Jeff said kudos to me for trying it.
We found our way to Chicken Hill and it really wasn’t too intimidating to me since I knew I had climbed it in the past on my ‘03 800 RMK. The view up top is wonderful and it was fun sharing it with Jeff, Steve and Shawn.
We moved on to Gravel Mountain. It looked really steep and I knew my sled was capable of climbing but was feeling very unsure about my abilities. I normally like to climb “the chicken way” where there is a resting place on top to catch my breath and get my nerve before the descent. I would have to arc on the steep slope of Gravel Mountain. After listening to my concerns Jeff advised that I practice arcing just a little way up and see if I felt comfortable with it. I think sometimes people with no fear, like Jeff, have a hard time understanding that yes, I am capable and at the same time yes, I could panic and make a mistake and wreck. He knows me really well and I took his advice and felt pretty comfortable taking on Gravel Mountain. I hit the hill fast and with a path in mind knowing that I turn better to the right. I did a great climb, sure, not as high as Jeff, but an excellent highmark and it felt great.
Today Paul and Danny arrived and all six of us met in town for a great breakfast at the Fat Cat Café. One thing I love about riding at Grand Lake is the wonderful restaurants and shopping in town. After a huge breakfast we took off, looking for some powder. Danny found some great fields for us and I had an awesome time playing in it. When I get a chance in powder I like to follow my brother-in-law Steve around. I try to do what he does, unsuccessfully of course but it is always fun. I finally got my sled on its side, turning and carving with good rhythm. I followed Steve over my first jump on my sled and was surprised at the smooth landing. I was giggling with delight, loving this new machine.
As our search for untouched powder took us further into the woods we decided to boondock down a mountain in hopes of finding a wonderful powder bed below. Most of the time that is how we find some of the best riding, just by exploring and seeing what we can find. But on this occasion what we found was a creek bed and no way out but back up the way we came down.
The sun was going down and what took us five minutes to sled down took us well over two hours to get back up. It was very steep with lots of trees and very deep snow. With everyone working together we struggled our way up and out. Jeff rode my sled out and walking up that long hill sure gave me a workout. It was exhausting, especially for the guys, as they did the heavy work. We were lucky I guess. We started talking about the “what ifs” and had a plan if we needed to camp out. We had everything we needed in our backpacks but the marshmallows. I was disappointed that we made it out. I know it would have been super chilly, but all I could think about was the story and the campfire lit photography.
Today we started out at the dealership getting some oil and we were advised that the avalanche hazard was high. I asked a few questions and they said to follow some simple rules. One of them was to only put one rider on a mountain at a time with the other riders a safe distance away. Several in our group were educated about avalanches. Unfortunately, only Paul and Danny had their own beacons. Next year Jeff and I WILL have our beacons and probes. Many wonderful people have been lost in avalanches so we took their advice and were very careful with our hillclimbing.
While off trail riding we found a great path winding up the side of a mountain. It was just wide enough for one way traffic. This is some of my favorite riding. Keeping the pace up and winding through the trees so heavy with snow that their branches are bowing down. A couple of us got stuck here and there and the path ended. It was fun trying to circle around and then go back down. We came across some amazing sites on that ride and I was tickled at the photography I caught while resting on some peaks.
For some reason I forgot to drink my water today, I guess I was having too much fun. But I got dehydrated and chilled which made my muscles cramp up and made it very uncomfortable riding back to the lodge. Dehydration, high altitude and bone chilling cold don’t mix well. I won’t make that mistake again. More layers of clothing and more water.
I wore more layers today and made sure I was hydrated and was ready for our next adventure. We rode up a peak and loved the 360-degree view as we rested up there and just took in all the beauty. From up top we could see some nice playing areas below. We saw some good powder for some of us and good climbing for Jeff and Paul. Those two will climb almost anything. I was feeling brave so I gave the climb a whirl. It was on the shadow side of a mountain so the snow was quite deep and powdery. Going up was challenging but fun and I did a nice arc to start the descent and was surprised that braking on such a steep slope in deep powder did nothing to slow you down but instead turned my back end a bit. I let out a little scream and gave a little throttle to straighten my sled out and came down faster that I am used to. Shawn got it on video and it will be hilarious to watch and listen to later. I loved it but not enough to do it again.
Steve and Shawn went back early that day to enjoy the shopping in town so I was left out there with three great riders, which made be feel a little intimidated. We searched for small trails through the mountains and had the most amazing time in the deep powder. We all got stuck but I did get the prize for the biggest hole. First Paul tried to bungee me out and he wouldn’t be successful. Next, Jeff bungeed onto him and he was unsuccessful. I managed to get them both slightly stuck. Danny took a different angle to bungee me out successfully. Thank goodness he got stuck soon afterwards so I would have something to hold over his head.
KEY: If you’re going WAAAY off trail ladies, it is always handy to have some strong men around to help you get unstuck. On second thought, maybe the bungees are better. Oh sure, I could eventually get myself out but it makes quick work of it with a couple of people to help. I did learn one handy trick. If you are playing in powder and your sled dumps on its side, just go to the skis and put your feet on the ski that is buried and your arms around the ski that is up. Next just use your weight to rock the sled down. Then just crawl out from under it, wah-la. Super simple.
While deep in the woods Danny spotted a porcupine and I was delighted since I had never seen one before. We proceeded slowly and watched him waddle off. Starting back, we saw a herd of elk in the woods. As we slowly drove by we enjoyed their beauty. The herd barely acknowledged us. Continuing back to town we saw a husband and wife stuck pretty good. Jeff and Danny headed over and helped get them out. We all visited a while and ended up meeting for dinner that evening at a great Mexican restaurant in Grand Lake. That’s the way it is in this sport, everyone lending a hand to strangers and in return making new friends.
Friday Jeff and I enjoyed sleeping in and we walked downtown for a day of shopping. We just took it easy all day and that evening ate at a Back Streek Steak House at the Daven Haven Lodge for a fine dining experience. Our friends and family had left this morning but we decided to stay through the weekend. It started to snow and it was so beautiful watching those big flakes fall on the town and the mountains.
Saturday morning we woke to six inches of fresh powder. Jeff made it a point that this morning was focused on me. We just went to a powder bowl and he let me play and gave me some tips. He took some photos of me and found out that all the fun I have photographing isn’t as easy as he thought. Lying in the snow, gloves off, wind blowing gets very chilly fast. He said he had a new respect for what I seem to love to do. It was an easy morning ride with just the two of us and very romantic time.
That afternoon the town of Grand Lake had its Winter Festival. The year’s theme was “The Pirates of the Caribbean.” The town really goes all out and it was so much fun to be a part of. They had something for all ages but I think the highlight was the Bed Sled Races. Teams of four runners and one rider race another team down the main street. They had snowman contest for the kids and many of the businesses did ice sculptures. My favorite was the ship in a bottle. I even saw about eight teenagers making a sculpture of a ship and thought how refreshing it was to see a town, young and old, come together for this fabulous event. Jeff and I will plan our trip again next year to coincide with the Festival.
Ladies, if you are looking for a more romantic stay for your snowmobiling trip than let me suggest Grand Lake. It has all the amenities you could ask for along with a great trail system and lots of powder and hillclimbing.
(ED—Saewert and her husband, Jeff, are from southern Indiana. Jeff introduced Vickie to snowmobiling on their honeymoon 13 years ago.)