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Ride of your life: Snowmobiling in Colorado

Caroline Smith takes to the snow in Telluride for a day of snowmobiling in Colorado across the slopes.

The pristine quiet of the snowy backcountry outside Telluride, Colorado, was shattered by the roar of the powerful snowmobile engine. I took a deep breath, opened the throttle and roared up a near-vertical slope at break-neck speed. This activity was optional and one I nearly passed on. But my pride and sometimes a reckless sense of adventure – you only live once – urged me forward. The thrill and the view were worth it. 

I am not, by nature, a ‘rev-head’ and usually prefer to enjoy nature as intended – peaceful and quiet. So skiing is one of my favourite winter pastimes. But lured by the possibility of exploring some spectacular backcountry and breath-taking views, and intrigued by the inclusion of a visit to Alta Ghost Town, I was keen to conquer an exciting new form of on-snow fun. So, opted into a two-hour snowmobile tour with Telluride Outfitters. It turned out to be perfect for beginner to intermediate riders and great for all – couples, singles or families.

Snowmobiling Colorado a line of snowmobiles
Explore spectacular backcountry © Caroline Smith

Sign up for snowmobiling in Colorado

After signing a waiver- signing away liability and heightening my anxiety – my group was transferred the short drive to the snowmobile base in a wooded clearing. Warm clothing, gloves and sturdy shoes are required, making ski gear perfect. With helmets supplied by the tour company before setting off. Choose from driving your own vehicle or doubling up, as a mother and her young daughter opted to do in my group.

Delegated to one in a line of impressively large, solid and racy-looking machines, our lovely expert female guide gave us a brief run-down on how to safely operate them. It’s easy once you’ve mastered the basic controls. Turn it on, and simply accelerate or brake.

However, first-time riders soon find it takes skill, caution and a little experience to become comfortable navigating the sometimes narrow, snowy trails, hills, curves and snow bumps. Once you do, the exhilaration and fun kick in. The altitude could aid this, as the tour is around 3,600 metres high into the Colorado mountains.

Read more: Discover the Colorado snow haven impossible not to love

Snowmobiling Colorado trio
Drive your own vehicle or double up © Caroline Smith

Discovering Alta Ghost Town

After winding through the forest, we stopped to hear the history and take photos of the original wooden structures’ remains and Alta Ghost Town’s mining relics. It all looking picture postcard perfect in the snowy woods. Established in 1877, the gold mine was active until after World War II, when the mill burned down. Alta became famous as the first place to be powered by Tesla’s AC transmission system when coal was upgraded from its original power source. Which took pack mules 6.4km over one day to deliver.

The natural setting could not be more mesmerising. A blue sky-framed backdrop of some of Colorado’s highest peaks or ‘fourteeners’ – as they refer to their height of over 14,000 feet. Immortalised on the Coors beer bottle, Wilson Peak, one of the world’s most iconic peaks and the San Juan Mountain Range symbol, sits proudly centre stage for those jaw-dropping photos or selfies. We could hardly tear ourselves away and back to the snowmobiles.

The opportunity to ‘gun’ the snowmobiles at a higher but safe speed to try our newfound skills in an open meadow and on a snow hill got me hooked on the need for speed!

The Observatory at Alta Lakes

If dreaming of staying out on the slopes long, there is also a delightful backwoods log ‘cabin’ sleeping up to 12 people and one of the few such cabins at over 3350 metres high in the USA. Located under Palmyra and Silver Peaks and accessible by skis, snowmobile or 4wd in summer, it is bookable on AirBnB. This is now firmly on my bucket list as a local described a stay where they hiked at night to the nearby slopes and skied under the full moon’s light.

Telluride, my next thrill awaits.

Snowmobiling in Colorado: Fact file

  • You must be 18 years old and a licensed driver (license/ ID required) to operate a single snowmobile
  • Or 21 years old to double with a child
  • Two-hour Alta Ghost Town tour costs: single USD $235 double USD $335 plus 20% cash tip
  • More information: tellurideoutfitters.com / altalakes.com

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