Top 15 Trails In The West

December 2007 Feature Viewed 777 time(s)

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 pummeled.

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 interesting.

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.

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