Since 2002, the West Elk Multi-Use Club (WEMUC) has marked, maintained, and promoted outdoor winter recreation trails in Colorado’s White River National Forest, north of Rifle, Silt, and New Castle.
WEMUC has worked with the White River National Forest Rifle Ranger District to establish a three-loop winter trail system, approximately 12 miles in length, starting on Forest Road 819, on the Buford Road, which is located in the Flat Tops, northwest of Glenwood Springs.
Multi-use means the trails and surrounding acres are shared lands with multiple uses to serve the needs of many. During the winter, the West Elk trails are closed to motorized vehicles (except for trail groomers) and open to cross-country skiers, snowshoers, fat tire bikers, and hikers. Trail users are welcome to bring their furry, four-legged friends no matter what species. As it turns out the trails are mostly a big hit with the dogs.
The club is in the midst of what may very well be an epic season.
“This year we have assembled what I consider my dream team of groomers. Not only are these guys great trail groomers but we all have fun and we really enjoy what we do,” said Executive Director Tod Tibbetts.
Along with Tibbetts, the WEMUC grooming team includes Todd Kupka (head groomer), Bruce Kime, Edgar Davidson, Brian Schwarz, and Art Dahl. Founding member and grandmaster groomer, Eric Boley (of Eric’s Loop fame), drops by now and then to assist with drift busting. Former residents of Silt Mesa, Boley and his wife, Donna, now reside in Eagle County.
However, trail grooming is hardly all fun and games. First the snow has to be packed down with snowmobiles. The number of go-rounds with snowmobiles depends on the snow depth. Once the snow is packed then out comes the Ginzugroomer, a pull-behind piece of equipment that makes a smooth and level trail surface.
This season, Boley has been trying out his new track setter. A beautiful, even track just so happens to be a real treat for the cross-country skiers.
The Flat Tops always receive an abundance of snow and this season Mother Nature has delivered the goods. Along with all that powder, high winds form monster drifts in the open meadows. That’s when grooming can get pretty gnarly.
“Driving a snowmobile in deep snow sometimes amounts to wrestling a 600-pound machine against a three-foot drift,” said Tibbetts.
Groomers carry shovels, snowshoes and/or skis on their snowmobiles in case they get stuck, which is a fairly common occurrence.
Some days just getting to the trailhead presents the biggest challenge.
One sunny Saturday in mid-December, Kupka headed up the Buford Road intending to groom trails in the afternoon. About three miles below the parking lot, as he rounded the first big hairpin corner, his snowmobile trailer fishtailed on a sheet of ice. Carrying the weight of two snowmobiles, the trailer pulled Kupka’s Toyota Land Cruiser over the side on a Nantucket sleigh ride. Luckily he walked out shaken but otherwise OK.
A couple days later, Donnie Lehto of Native American Crane came to the rescue and plucked the Toyota, two snowmobiles, and the trailer out of the ravine.
Damages to the vehicle and the snowmobile were minor. The trailer wasn’t totaled but it was put out of commission. Since then the groomers have been using the Club’s old trailer, which is a struggle to load and unload. Recently, the groomers were able to find a drive-on, drive-off trailer with a mud shield. The club is sponsoring a fundraiser at Indiegogo.com to help pay for the trailer.
Crowdfunding (or crowdsourcing) is the latest trend in fundraising via the Internet and social media because it allows for a small amount of money to be raised for a specific purpose through many small donations.
Tibbetts estimates trail use at around 200 users per week, though not everyone is a member of WEMUC.
“With crowdfunding we hope to reach those occasional trail users who want to support what we do but aren’t necessarily interested in being a club member,” Tibbetts explains. “Trails are important to people and for the community as a whole. This is an opportunity for people to learn about our fabulous trail system and support outdoor winter recreation.”