One day. One snowmobile. One epic adventure. A GearJunkie editor traveled across Colorado to see what a new experience-based company has to offer.
Snowmobiling is a really fun winter sport. Especially if you are a fan of motorized activities. Yes, human-powered sports like cross-country and downhill skiing, as well as snowshoeing, have their place, but nothing quite compares to exploring winter trails on a snowmobile.
If you are a beginner, you probably have lots of questions. Where should I snowmobile? Where is the best place to go? How can I get into the sport? Also, what kind of gear do I need? Should I hire a guide?
We are here to answer those burning questions, with everything you need to know, from what to expect on a guided snowmobile tour, to what to bring, to how it all works.
Not sure where to start? Here is a great place.
The Adventure Begins
It’s 5 a.m. and I’m driving on I-70 westbound. In a few hours, I’ll be up in the Colorado high country, specifically, in the mountainous region legendarily known as home to the 10th Mountain Division. This place wasn’t new to me, but the experience would be.
As the temps dropped lower, the roads got slicker, and the steep mountain grades climbed higher, I turned my eyes back to the road. What am I doing here? I pondered as I looked down and realized I left my coffee mug at home. I wasn’t questioning myself in a literal sense (despite my lack of coffee); the thought ran deeper. What adventure am I embarking on?
The answer I’d discover later: a remarkable one. And really, half the fun of any great adventure is the anticipation.
Fast forward to daylight hours. I’m just a few miles away from my destination in the middle of nowhere, a backcountry haven at least 50 miles from the nearest hospital, a place so out of cell service there wasn’t a single radio station to serenade my drive.
A blip on the map in Colorado’s White River National Forest, somewhere along Highway 24 is the 10th Mountain Division’s Camp Hale. Before I get too far along, let me first tell you why I was there. Two words: to snowmobile.
Uncharted Society: My Trusted Guides
The opportunity came through Uncharted Society, BRP’s newest venture — a no-holds-barred adventure company that handles everything from the idea for an adventure to the guides, equipment, booking, itineraries, meals, and more.
As a relative of BRP, Uncharted Society focuses on motor-powered adventures: exploring land and road via Can-Am UTVs, water via Sea-Doo boats, and snow via Ski-Doo snowmobiles. In its first year, it already operates in dozens of locations across 10 states.
Uncharted Society led me here, to one of its partner outfitters, where a small heated lodge, sprawling snowy property, and a fleet of guides and snowmobiles greeted me. I was here for an “uncharted” experience snowmobiling in a section of Colorado’s backcountry.
Snowmobiling With a Guide: The Experience
If you’ve never been snowmobiling, here’s all you need to know: it’s a fun way to explore the outdoors — if you don’t mind the cold, that is.
To Guide or Not to Guide
Even if you are experienced in your preferred vein of adventure (land, water, snow) — even if you are experienced in backcountry travel — I’d opt for a guided experience.
As someone who has worked as an outdoor leader and a guide in the backcountry, it was really refreshing knowing I could just show up with minimal gear excited for the adventure ahead — without having to do any extra legwork with planning, checking conditions, checking trail maps, or anything else.
And if you are a true beginner, the perks of a guided trip are doubled.
What to Know Before You Go Snowmobiling
Now, there are plenty of places that have really great networks of snowmobile trails. It’s not like one place is going to be light years better than another. At least, not when you are starting out.
What you want to look for is variety. Does a particular trip or outfitter offer options for beginners, intermediates, or someone more advanced? Do they offer different riding styles (single or double sleds)? Do they offer lodging or transportation or meals? Once you’ve got the proper logistics picked, it’s time to book your trip.
Next, load up and get out on the trails.
When you are snowmobiling, keep in mind there are motorized and nonmotorized trails (so stay in your lane, literally). Even with a guided experience like this one, I got my fair share of opportunities to drive on-trail, and off. Practice confidence, practice pushing yourself, get out of your element.
How to Snowmobile: Pro Tips
Your first time snowmobiling will likely feel odd compared to other sports. But once you know how to sit, how to balance and shift your weight, and how to operate the machine, it’s pretty easy. Key components of any sled: the throttle, ignition, brake, front and rear suspension, skis with traction, dash, and more.
There’s a learning curve, but also an element of instinct. If you are familiar with other snowsports or powersports (or if you’ve ever driven a motorcycle), snowmobiling may be even easier to learn.
For beginners, the best thing to keep in mind is that you want to be balanced and in control. Like riding a bike or skiing, don’t look straight down; instead, look ahead to where you are going. Also like skiing, it’s almost easier to go fast than go slow.
You’ll be driving a 500-pound machine across snow, so don’t be afraid to give it some power. Stay in control — but don’t be afraid to take some risk.
Leaning into turns, learning how to accelerate and gauge your speed, and learning how to shift your weight when in uneven terrain — these are all skills that you can develop as you ride.
Trip Planning: The Destination
Not that driving a snowmobile and bouncing over powder isn’t great, but half the excitement on this trip (unknowingly) came from the destination itself.
Camp Hale, located outside Leadville, was just that — a temporary “camp” for thousands of infantrymen to live and train ahead of WWII. Cobbled together in 1942, there was none other like it.
The camp itself is a compound with everything from barracks and rec areas and livestock stables, to massive walls of rock and alpine features like peaks, ridges, and cornices. And it was perfect for those in its ranks to train for fighting in high alpine conditions that would await them in places like Austria and Italy.
They even had a ski shop on site. This makes sense, considering those in this infantry division trained in mountain climbing, alpine skiing, cold-weather survival, and so much more.
As our guide led us deeper into the trail system, and when we stopped to survey some of the views, the history lesson continued. The 10th Mountain Division’s Camp Hale is legendary, not only because of its location, but also because of the people who were there. It wasn’t just their skills or their penchant for tolerating extreme cold, it was their successes too.
People like Paul Petzoldt, founder of NOLS; David Brower, founder of the Sierra Club; Charles Dole, founder of National Ski Patrol; and Pete Seibert, founder of Vail Resort — they all served as infantrymen in the 10th Mountain Division. Dozens of others who served in the 10th Mountain Division went on to build and found ski resorts across Colorado, setting the stage for the level of ski recreation this state has today.
After cruising over Ptarmigan Pass, we reached Machine Gun Ridge. Standing somewhere north of 12,000 feet, I looked down and pictured the men who trained here, carrying weaponry for miles only to be crouched down in the snow. Specifically, they used this spot for night and low-light shooting drills. Long, cold hours, training under fire.
I thought about infantrymen who served more recently. In fact, our guide is a retired U.S. infantryman-turned BLM ranger-turned snowmobiler. I thought about my dad, who also served in a very specialized section of the military — the Marine Corps.
And here I was straddling a snowmobile, totally in awe, soaking up the sun and snow, fueled by adventure and adrenaline. Possibly, the same kind of adrenaline that confronted those in the 10th Mountain Div when they were here.
Guided Snowmobiling With Uncharted Society: Final Trip Report
Being anywhere in the backcountry has me thinking about the simpler things in life. In the backcountry, your job is simple: eat, hydrate, find shelter, stay safe, survive. Sometimes it’s more complicated, sometimes less. Being in the backcountry on a snowmobile simplified the directive slightly: stay safe, and have fun (oh and yes, you should still hydrate).
Call it what you want: embracing your inner kid, going where the action is, living life to its fullest, taking a road less traveled — a day in the backcountry on a sled, surrounded by snow and good people, is a pretty great way to pass the time.
For those of you less enthralled by the history of Camp Hale, and more interested in what you can expect from a guided trip with Uncharted Society (whether or not it’s on snow), know this: they take care of the planning, the logistics run pretty smoothly, and you get to drive some pretty fun machines. If you are thinking about it, go for it.
Try something new. Embrace the turbo-powered thrills. Get out there and explore. You won’t be disappointed.