April E. ClarkPost Independent ContributorGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

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February 24, 2013
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Sledding with the Mt. Sopris Rec Riders

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - As a skier, I could hardly be called a shredder. I'm more like a ski bunny, taking my time on runs and skiing in comfort mode.I so don't have any friends on powder days.When the Carbondale-based Mt. Sopris Rec Riders snowmobile club invited me to join them for a day of sledding, I was a little timid. Maybe even a full-on chicken. Prior to this week, I had only been snowmobiling once in my life. And that was back in Indiana, on a snow-covered cornfield with stalks sticking out of the terrain like a true Midwest obstacle course.Something told me I wouldn't have that problem on the Sunlight to Powderhorn Trail, better known as the SP Trail.Powder is the key word there.Maybe the Rec Riders were on to me. Maybe they read my other installments of the April Takes a Ride series. They not only offered me the chance to ride a snowmobile, but also, to my delight, the snowcat. Like many of the forms of transportation I've ridden as part of this fun long-term assignment, I had never been in a snowcat. Let alone groom a multi-use trail in the White River National Forest.Imagine my excitement.I first spoke with Ernie Gianinetti, of Carbondale, a longtime member of the club, as he was the holder of the Mt. Sopris Rec Rider's scrapbook. I just love old scrapbooks that feature photos and newspaper clippings from back in the day. With today's digital age, scrapbooks are almost old-fashioned so it's always refreshing to see the past preserved in print form.Especially newspapers. Ernie was nice and accommodating and the scrapbook was soon in my hands as I met a handful of Rec Riders at the Four Mile Road Trailhead. Friendly faces Stephen and Carol Burns, Tim Hunter, and Dave Stark met Post Independent photographer Kelley Cox and I as we took note of the Colorado bluebird skies and the beautiful weather, perfect for snowmobiling and cat riding. The club's president, Eric Rudd, was also present and brought cookies - so he was my instant friend. I asked him about the group and why he enjoys being a five-year member, as well as acting president. He said he has been riding snowmobiles since he was 5. "As kids, we used to cruise around the ranches in the valley and check stuff out," he said. "[Snowmobiling] is just fun. You get out and see a lot of the forest that some people never see. I have to say the scenery you get out here is just unbelievable. You see so much of the wilderness."Eric schooled me in the difference between trail sleds versus mountain sleds."Mountain sleds have longer tracks," he said. "And you can shift it and really lean it."I didn't have many plans to lean anything, mostly because I have an unresolved fear of crashing and wrecking expensive things - I backed into a car or two of my dad's early in my driving career - so I happily jumped into the snow cat with driver Stephen Burns in the warm cab. Kelley was more than happy to jump on a sled.Of course I brought the cookies in the snowcat."I did the snowcat for Sunlight in the 1970s," he said. "It was one of the old clunkers that still had the standard transmissions and clutches. It was nothing like these Cadillacs." I liked Stephen's stories. He reminded me of the actor Sam Elliott, and not just because of the sweet mustache. He spoke of being a rancher and owning his own excavation company. He said he and Carol, who were high school sweethearts who reunited later in life, took to snowmobiling once their four kids were grown."We never had the toys until the kids were out of the house," he said.

Carol was happy to provide me with facts about the Colorado Snowmobile Association. The Mt. Sopris Rec Riders is one of 35 snowmobiling clubs that comprise the statewide organization and helps groom and maintain multi-use trails. The Rec Riders work with Colorado Parks & Wildlife and the U.S. Forest in printing maps for the trails and ensuring the trails are properly marked and safe for riders."Colorado is the only state whose whole grooming program is performed by individual clubs," she said.Carol said Colorado has 30,655 registered snowmobiles, with 80 percent of the fees funding equipment for grooming and maintaining trails. The other 20 percent goes to enforcement, safety education and signage, she said. Stephen and others, like Eric, groom out of the love in their hearts for the sport, volunteering so others can enjoy the trails."Eric has a smaller version of this cat and he helps groom the trail up Marion Gulch," Stephen said. "He's been a great help to the club. He's really been a godsend."Snowmobile clubs like the Mt. Sopris Rec Riders - who are at around 80 members these days - and Western Slope clubs the Snow Skippers and Delta SnoKrusers provide 1.4 million groomed and maintained trails in Colorado.Next time you meet a snowmobile clubber, make sure to give them a big hug for how much they care about the sport.I just happen to be a hugger, so be prepared.I loved riding co-pilot with Stephen, as we wound our way through the pine trees and around the wonderland that is the White River National Forest in the winter. And that's not just because I had easy access to heat and cookies. There's something exciting about being in a machine like that bringing so much joy to the riders of the SP Trail - which, along with snowmobilers, includes cross-country skiers, fat tire mountain bikers, snowshoers, hikers and more."A lot of people, after a snowfall like this, will try to get out for first tracks and the powder," Stephen said. "The trick is to just keep the blade kissing the snow."

Kelley found out first-hand what is what like to hit some fresh pow. She went big and ended up stuck in the snow, a feat I pulled off only an hour later."Stephen says 'if you ain't getting stuck, you ain't having fun,'" Carol said. "But if nobody touches your sled before you get out you're technically stuck."I'm all about having fun and staying safe - safety first, of course - so I appreciated words of wisdom."A lot of us ride at the same level, but some don't," Stephen said. "We have only one rule out here and that's you're responsible for the person behind you. Some riders will take off on you and let you fend for yourself but we're not like that."Kelley was happy about that rule."I was buried," she said. "Honestly, I thought there's no way they're going to get me out but they know how to do it. To me it looked like we would have to get a tractor up here this spring to get it out."I found myself stuck after lunch. We stopped at a breathtaking area on the SP Trail they call "Tri-county," because you can see views of Garfield, Pitkin and Mesa counties. I had never seen the Bookcliffs in Grand Junction, Sunlight Mountain in Glenwood Springs and Capitol Peak in Aspen at the same time.I was in awe.Feeling the need for speed, I borrowed a helmet and jumped on a blue Ski-Doo - a popular brand of sled - and headed toward a nice and safe trail through the tall pine trees. I liken the experience of snowmobiling to jet skiing, except instead of on water like my most recent ride in the Bahamas, I was on snow. And man was that fun.I can't wait to do it again. Even after I found myself stuck in the snow like Kelley. Hey, I'm only going to live once so I figure I'll make it worthwhile. The Rec Riders also came to my rescue."Jump off the sled," Stephen instructed.So I did and I ended up thigh-deep in powder. I love Colorado.I also love snowmobiling now. My experience was much more enthralling than the Midwest cornstalk obstacle course. And I can't wait to take Stephen up on his offer to take the snowcat on a grooming mission over to the Electric Lodge outside of Paonia. How cool would that be?Very, I imagine.Powder DayKelley found out first-hand what is what like to hit some fresh pow. She went big and ended up stuck in the snow, a feat I pulled off only an hour later."Stephen says 'if you ain't getting stuck, you ain't having fun,'" Carol said. "But if nobody touches your sled before you get out you're technically stuck."I'm all about having fun and staying safe - safety first, of course - so I appreciated words of wisdom."A lot of us ride at the same level, but some don't," Stephen said. "We have only one rule out here and that's you're responsible for the person behind you. Some riders will take off on you and let you fend for yourself but we're not like that."Kelley was happy about that rule."I was buried," she said. "Honestly, I thought there's no way they're going to get me out but they know how to do it. To me it looked like we would have to get a tractor up here this spring to get it out."I found myself stuck after lunch. We stopped at a breathtaking area on the SP Trail they call "Tri-county," because you can see views of Garfield, Pitkin and Mesa counties. I had never seen the Bookcliffs in Grand Junction, Sunlight Mountain in Glenwood Springs and Capitol Peak in Aspen at the same time.I was in awe.Feeling the need for speed, I borrowed a helmet and jumped on a blue Ski-Doo - a popular brand of sled - and headed toward a nice and safe trail through the tall pine trees. I liken the experience of snowmobiling to jet skiing, except instead of on water like my most recent ride in the Bahamas, I was on snow. And man was that fun.I can't wait to do it again. Even after I found myself stuck in the snow like Kelley. Hey, I'm only going to live once so I figure I'll make it worthwhile. The Rec Riders also came to my rescue."Jump off the sled," Stephen instructed.So I did and I ended up thigh-deep in powder. I love Colorado.I also love snowmobiling now. My experience was much more enthralling than the Midwest cornstalk obstacle course. And I can't wait to take Stephen up on his offer to take the snowcat on a grooming mission over to the Electric Lodge outside of Paonia. How cool would that be?Very, I imagine.


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The Post Independent Updated Feb 24, 2013 01:08AM Published Feb 24, 2013 01:01AM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.