Well, we’re here to make it right in this issue of SnoWest. Here is all the information we couldn’t include in this season’s Western Guide.
After all, we love to ride the mountains and every state in the West gives us that opportunity. It’s not just that we live in the West, but it’s that we live for snowmobiling in the mountains of the western United States.
We’re not really any different than most everyone else who rides the West. We’re all looking for those mountains that soar into the sky, deep powder, wide open spaces to ride, great trail systems that gain sometimes thousands of feet, scenery that takes your breath away and places where you can ride into May, sometimes June or even July.
However, try as we might every winter, we still haven’t ridden everywhere we want to. That makes it somewhat tantalizing for us to put together this issue each year. We would love to ride each and every area there is listed in this travel guide.
We have plenty to choose from. The sheer number of areas you can ride from north to south is extensive. Of course there is snowmachining in Alaska, but that’s a story all by itself. Take that snow state out and you still have 12 western states—plus western South Dakota—that stretch from Canada to Mexico and there is snowmobiling in each one.
The snowbelt (where enough snow falls to allow for consistent snowmobiling) in much of America sags down to maybe an imaginary line that roughly follows the northern border of Kansas and Missouri, through the middle of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio and a bit farther south in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
The snowbelt in the West, though, is much different. Because we can throw mountains into the mix, it’s possible to snowmobile in southern New Mexico, down around Cloudcroft in the Lincoln National Forest. That is about the same latitude as say Dallas, TX or Talladega National Forest near Birmingham, AL, where there is definitely no snowmobiling.
Mountains make all the difference and that’s our ace in the hole in the West. Every state in the West has mountains and that means you can ride a snowmobile in every state in the West. Sure, some states get more snow than others, but every state at least provides some opportunities to ride. That’s why we continue to highlight the riding in each western state.
And we’ve said it before and we’ll say it again and again. We may live in the West, but we never tire of riding the West.
Give credit where credit is due. For years and years we’ve written about snowmobiling in Alaska and talked about the wide-open riding and nearly limitless snowmobiling possibilities. Then, finally, we did some research and put together a list of groomed trail systems in the state. We presented that information for the first time last year.
There are hundreds of miles of groomed trails available in Alaska, along with all the backcountry riding we wrote about for years.
The grooming program is still relatively new in Alaska and the hundreds of miles of trails now groomed are relatively few in number compared to the size of the state, but it’s still an impressive undertaking by Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources and the SnowTrac Grooming program, as well as many others.
There are nearly a dozen groomed trail systems spread out from the Kenai Peninsula up to the Fairbanks area. Many of the groomed trail systems are in already-popular sledding spots such as Petersville, Denali Highway, Big Lake, Lake Louise and Hatcher Pass, among others.
It’s worth mentioning there are also a couple of groomed trails in southeast Alaska, near Juneau.
Even with the groomed snowmobile trail systems, wide open, backcountry riding is still the “norm” in Alaska, where your only limits might be the amount of gas you can carry and your ability to read a GPS.
Some of the more popular local sledding spots—both on and off-trail now—include Hatcher Pass; Nancy Lake State Recreation Area/Willow and Big Lake, north of Anchorage; the White Mountains; Summit and Cantwell near Fairbanks; Tok; Delta Junction; Valdez; and Eureka. Of course, these riding areas are just a small portion of what is actually available.
Other riding options include selected Alaska state parks, such as the already-mentioned Nancy Lake. A handful of others where snowmachining is allowed include Birch Lake State Recreation Site, Chena River State Recreation Area, Denali State Park and Chugach State Park. For more information on these parks and others, log on to http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/ and click on the individual parks section.
Riding is also popular and allowed in Alaska’s two state forests—Tanana Valley (near Fairbanks) and Haines (near Haines).
Contact the Alaska State Snowmobile Association for information on riding in the state by logging on to the ASSA website at www.aksnow.org. The state association’s website has good information on several trail systems, including maps, and what awaits you when you ride there.