Nova Guides Top of the Rockies Tour
Red Cliff, Colorado
The town of Vail, Colorado sits in a valley surrounded by the White River National Forest and the Rocky Mountains, making it a great destination for exploring. Normally, a trip to Vail means a week of skiing and ice skating, but this year, I was looking for a new experience – something more remote than the hustle and bustle of the slopes. Enter my desire to – finally – go snowmobiling in the Rockies, and an idea was born. After a week of researching tour options, I decided to go with Nova Guides’ Top of the Rockies Half Day package.
Booking and Check-in
The process to book the tour was pretty simple: I called, we talked about options, I made a choice, and the reservation was done. If you would rather not make a phone call, you can easily book the tour on the Nova Guides website. Included in your tour will be most everything you need to survive, including: transportation, an awesome guide (ask for Bob), a helmet, snowsuit, and snow boots. There are also a couple items I recommend you bring along for more comfort: goggles to protect your eyes, something to keep your ears warm, and hand warmers.
We decided to forego the transportation option because we were excited about driving through the mountains to Camp Hale, the starting location for the tour. This afforded us the opportunity to explore the area further when the tour ended. If you are interested in things to do in the area, you can read about them in my Vail Valley Travel Guide.
Check-in was easy: we were given our suits and directed to where we could find the helmets and boots. We were able to find the right fit easily, but if you are new to this, then your guide will be happy to help you get situated. There were a few people in our group who weren’t sure what to do, so the guides took their time helping everyone get prepared. Once we were ready, we headed outside to check out the snowmobiles, or “snow hogs,” as I like to call them. This was when I started to get really excited, and a bit nervous too.
Our “Snow Hog”
I was impressed with the snowmobile fleet offered for the Top of the Rockies tour. Single riders were given a four-stroke MXZ Sport 600, while partner riders were given a four-stroke Grand Touring Sport 600. We opted for the two-seater, Grand Touring Sport, so I could get plenty of pictures and video of our snowmobiling journey. I have to say, the snowmobile was rather comfortable. There was plenty of room for both driver and passenger, plus the passenger handles are heated; even with gloves on, those heated handles are necessary when snowmobiling.
Once we got our instructions, we took time to get comfortable with the machine and waited for our signal to go ahead. When Bob, our guide, said “Everybody ready?” thumbs up trickled down the line like the wave at a football game – and we were off!
Three Hours of Snowmobiling Bliss
The minute we left camp was the beginning of a life-altering experience—the type of experience that changes your perspective of the world. For three hours, we raced along the flat lands of the White River National Forest, climbed our way up to a peak of 12,500 feet for a breathtaking, 360-view of the Rockies, and then crossed over the Continental Divide on our way to an open area were we could play.
When we stopped, I finally had a chance to take a break from snowmobiling to absorb the details of my surroundings. Until that point, it had all raced by, making it difficult to gain a full perspective. This time had been intended for us have some fun playing on the snowmobiles, but I was so caught up in my surroundings that I let my friend have most of the fun. In those moments I felt small, but powerful—weak, but capable. I had conquered the elements enough to bring me to that moment, and the beauty I saw was unprecedented. I watched as those around me reveled in the moment of our shared experience. Then, as life goes, things got interesting.
First, the group of extreme riders near us were taking turns riding up a steep powder slope when one of them got stuck. While they figured out how to get out of there without causing an avalanche, another group got stuck at the bottom of the same slope. They hadn’t realized how deep the powder was until they sank, which required some teamwork to get them back on their way. Finally, when those situations were handled, my friend was spotted waving his hands far in the distance. I figured he was stuck like the rest and chuckled as the others raced off to rescue him. Turns out, the snowmobile had broken down. Once we got it started again, we began our limp back to Camp Hale.
Remember when I said, “Things got interesting?” Well, the interesting didn’t stop there. On the way back, our guide got a call that there had been an accident on the other tour. Someone had lost control and ran the snowmobile into a tree; luckily, no one was injured. In moments like those, one may be disappointed with the way the day turned out – limping back to camp on a broken down snowmobile and having to stop to rescue another group – but I wasn’t disappointed, or upset. I learned not long ago that nothing is perfect, and it is your reaction that dictates your perspective. Add to that, the excellent crisis management skills of our guides, and my friend and I agreed the experience was a success.
Back at Camp Hale, we returned our gear and headed for a warm lunch and cold beer. It was surreal to sit there looking out the window, etching the memories of the day in my mind. I had been looking for a different view of Vail, and I got it in spades.