Sunday, January 9, 2011

Snow Cat Tour

I was recently invited to go out with one of High Country Activities' snowmobile partners, to try their brand new snow cat tour, just off Scenic Highway 91 on the way to Leadville, with several other concierges from Summit County.

We were picked up by our friendly shuttle driver, Eric, and then headed west on Interstate 70 to the Copper Mountain exit. This road is a National Scenic Byway known as Top of the Rockies We headed up and over Fremont Pass where the snowmobile tours take place and just after passing the Climax Molybdenum Mine and the headwaters of the Arkansas River we turned off left into the base for the tour. The property is the former site of the Colorado Belle Placer Mine owned and mined by a colorful Leadville character named Cecil, and some of the old buildings are still on the property. There was our "chariot" for our tour, a shiny red snow cat, manufactured in Germany, weighing 2500lbs and 25' wide.

Snow Cat
Inside the cab was toasty warm, with comfortable seats and seat belts. It can accommodate up to twelve people.

Passenger Cab

Over the summer the owner widened the mining road by five feet to allow for the passage of the snow cat. The road winds through the forest of Lodgepole and Ponderosa pines with Blue Spruce as it ascends, interspersed with Aspen stands and groves of Willows. The trees are coated in the remnants of last night's snowfall and underneath their branches are many animal tracks - someone in our tour thought them to be rabbit tracks. As we reach one of the high points of the tour we are afforded a splendid view of the headwaters of the Arkansas River, the sixth longest river in the United States. All of this information is shared with the guests by the driver through a sound system. There is also a radio in the passenger cab to communicate with the driver in his cab in case any guests have a question.

View of Arkansas River Valley

After we had crossed the old rail bed of the Denver South Park and Pacific Railroad built in the late 1800s we ascended to the area designated for snow biking that is part of the tour, after reading our instructions on how to operate the bike. We clamber out the the cat. There is a platform to step out onto and then steps with a hand bar to descend onto the snow.

High Country Activity owner Jane Shafroth
on the right with Jan from Blue Sky, Breckenridge

Here stashed literally in the middle of nowhere are the snow bikes, small and large, with one tiny one for a child to try. There are also short outrigger skis with a snowboard binding that can be strapped to any boot, if you want a bit more stability. The snow bikes were a blast and we descended an untracked slope that was not too steep but had enough pitch to find some speed. The bikes were easy to control and could be ridden at any speed, depending on your adrenalin junkie status.

Snow bikers starting out from the Cat

Fresh Tracks

After our snow bike adventure, it was time to descend to the Yurt that has been placed on the property for a hot drink or a lunch break, depending on the length of the tour.


The yurt was previously owned by the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association and although it is no longer part of this hut system, there is a plaque on the deck commemorating its former use. The 10th Mountain Division was and still is an alpine army unit originally based at nearby Camp Hale for training during World War II, and now in Fort Drum, NY Many of the men serving in World War II returned to Colorado where they had trained after the war and started some of the nearby ski areas, Peter Seibert in Vail, being the most notable former member of the division. The hut system was named to honor the men of this elite fighting division in the areas where they trained and the individual huts were built from funds raised to remember those who loved the backcountry and the mountains, as the plaque pictured below relates.

10th Mountain Division Plaque

As we stepped up onto the deck of the yurt the clouds lifted enough for us to have views of Mount Elbert  the highest of Colorado's mountains and Mount Massive the second highest.

Mount Elbert and Mount Massive from the Yurt

Inside the yurt is nicely appointed and well heated by a burning wood stove, with a kitchen to prepare snacks or lunch for cat guests. Our lunch and hot drinks were served by our cat drivers and snow cat instructors, Derek, whose family owns the Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad historic train, that operates in the summers and for which he is a driver, and Rod who really helped us with the snow bikes.

Inside the Yurt

As we descended after our break, it was magical with the narrow road snuggled between the snow laden trees with only the sound of the cat tracks (watch this video of part of our descent). Then we passed the mining camp, known by the operators as Cecilville after the original owner of the property.

The snow cat is available for daily two hour tours including the snow bike adventure, a stop at the yurt for hot drinks and complimentary transportation to the tour at 9:00am, 11:00am, 1:30pm & 3:30pm, with pick up in Summit County at 8:00am, 10:00am, 12:30pm & 2:30pm, and at Copper Mountain at 8:30am, 10:30am, 1:00pm and 3:00pm for a cost of $125 for adults and $75 for children ages 7 and under. The four hour tour with unlimited snow biking and lunch served in the yurt is for ages 7 and up and is $225 per person, with a minimum of 10 people. You are also able to buy out the cat for a special tour for all or a half day.

These details will be on soon, but you can call to book today at 970-389-8214. Don't miss out on this unusual, one of a kind, adventure. Perfect for families with young children or older relatives, pregnant women who cannot snowmobile, or anyone else who would like to be part of an exclusive group of people in a beautiful setting with magnificent views on an incredible piece of the Colorado mountains only accessible by the snow cat.