MOLAS PASS, COLO. — A fresh snowfall in Colorado over the weekend put winter sports in high gear.
Many snowmobilers headed up the mountains for adventure in the fresh snow. But conditions weren't exactly ideal.
"It was pretty rough out there," said Kyle Nose, of Bayfield, Colo., after he spent about 3 1/2 hours Saturday riding his snowmobile at Molas Pass, a winter recreation area about 41 miles north of Durango, Colo., on U.S. Highway 550.
He explained that after a period of little snow, there was a lot of new snow on the trails that day. So, he said, it seemed everyone was getting stuck.
Still, that didn't stop him from enjoying the powder.
"I ride snowmobiles for the adrenaline rush, the feeling of being in remote places and the adventure," Nosek said.
Adrenaline aside, snowmobiling can also be fun for the family, said Roger Pennington, president of the San Juan Sledders Snowmobiling Club of Durango.
"Snowmobiling is a great way to spend a winter and a good family activity," he said.
The San Juan Sledders Snowmobiling Club maintains more than 300 miles and nine trails in the San Juan National Forest and southwestern Colorado.
Club members groom and mark the trails with a snowcat, a truck-sized machine designed to move on snow. The club's members use the machine to cut out the slides and drifts and fill in the holes, much like at ski areas. The process makes it easier for people to snowmobile.
"Riding a groomed trail makes it so everyone from a beginner to an experienced rider can ride," Pennington said.
The club meets at 7 p.m. on the second Thursday of every month at Glider Park, which is about three miles north of Durango on U.S. Highway 550. People interested in joining can come to a meeting, stop at the snowmobile shops in Durango or visit the group's website at sanjuansledders.org for more information.
U.S. Forest Service Avalanche Center offers tips
· One at a time: Ride one at a time in avalanche terrain. Only expose one person at a time and watch from a safe location while they get out of the avalanche run zone.
· Be aware: Look for signs of unstable snow. Recent avalanches are the best way to tell the stability of the slopes and snow you are riding on.
· Bring gear: Make sure everyone in your group carries avalanche rescue gear. Gear should be carried on your body or a backpack, and everyone in the group should be familiar with how to use it.
The avalanche center says the perfect recipe for an avalanche are three key things:
· Terrain: slope being steeper than 30 degrees;
· Snowpack: unstable snowpack, some layers being stronger and some being weaker than others; and
· Trigger: anything can be a trigger, from more weight like that of a snowmobile to just more snowfall.
"An advantage of joining a snowmobile club is there is always someone to ride with because a general rule of thumb is to never go out alone," Pennington said.
Pennington, who has been riding since he was a young child, said he rides snowmobiles because it's a way to enjoy winter.
"I ride stuff in the spring that in the summertime you'd have to have ropes to get to," he said. "Snowmobiling lets you cover a lot of country that is hard to get to otherwise. That and the beauty of the country when it is covered in snow. Everything is smooth, clean and pretty."
Although they're pretty, the San Juan Mountains are especially prone to avalanches, and any snowmobiler or winter sports enthusiast should be aware of that danger.
Avalanche beacons can transmit or receive signals over 60 to 100 feet. People should wear beacons on their bodies in transmit mode. If buried by an avalanche, rescuers switch their beacons into receiver mode to locate them.
When a person is located with a beacon, rescuers use avalanche probes. Probes weigh less than a pound. They slide through the snow better than a ski pole. They save time before digging so you can find where the victim is buried.
An avalanche shovel is light weight and compactible. You carry with you while snowmobiling. Once you locate someone trapped in an avalanche and use a probe to determine their location you can begin shoveling for their rescue.
When going in the backcountry it is important to bring a first aid kit, small repair kit and survival essentials. Pennington ensures he has enough food to survive the night out. Other things to consider are extra wire, duct tape and a space blanket.
Both Pennington and Jed Botsford, a recreation planner with the U.S. Forest Service, recommend snowmobilers take an avalanche shovel, beacon and probe with them in case an avalanche strikes.
Botsford advises anyone who rides outside of groomed trails to take an avalanche course.
"You will have a better education of where to ride, and it will open your eyes on a lot of things," Botsford said.
The San Juan Sledders Snowmobiling Club, the Silverton Snowmobile Club and San Juan College offer avalanche classes.
For up-to-date information on avalanches in the San Juan Mountains go to avalanche.state.co.us.