In an old, rustic building on the edge of national forest land is Trailblazer Snowmobile Tours, a Fraser, Colorado, company owned by Greg Foley.
At the start of a ride with Foley, he tells us what we are getting into. Trailblazer has a permit to ride on 120 miles in the St Louis Creek/Arapaho National Forest, the largest track of land permitted to a local business. The permits issued in the 1980s allow access into rolling hills in this north-central area of Colorado open up deep forests and wide valleys. This is closest snowmobiling outfit to the Denver area.
On a bluebird, Colorado afternoon a group of Winter Park and Fraser locals head out on a two-hour tour.
Trailblazer’s fleet of new Arctic Cat and Yamaha 4-stroke snowmobiles are perfect for this ride, but Foley lets us ride his new fleet of Phazers, powerful high-performance machines.
Elizabeth Kurtak, a local artist who specializes in watercolor and has a gallery in Fraser, works for Trailblazer in winter. She has organized this group today and on the tour takes the last position. She snowmobiled as a kid growing up in Grand Lake and likes the improvements that have happened since then. “The new snow machines are much nicer, easier to control, lighter, so much easier to start,” she says.
Her husband, Andrew Petersen, a local poet, maintenance man and all-around good guy, goes on the tour today as well. He is in the front position after our guide, Josh Henry. Henry has been a guide for six years at Trailblazer. He is the quintessential snowmobile guide: happy, energetic, loves his job. He teaches us the hand signals: slow, stop and, my favorite, Moose on Trail (see photo). He watches us carefully as we ride practice loops before heading into the wood. He loves watching us have fun. “After putting on 10,000 miles of riding each season, I keep coming back each winter to be a guide. I love it,” he says.
Since I’ve mountain-biked most of these trails, part of the 600 miles of trails in the Winter Park Fraser Valley, I am eager to see them in winter covered with snow. We ride on Zoom, Chainsaw, Creekside and D2 over to the Vasquez area, where I request to go. The Vasquez Creek area borders Vasquez wilderness and, of course, we aren’t allowed to go there. We are not permitted near the Fraser Experimental Forest either. But there are plenty of trails we can ride and explore in the area.
Thanks to Trailblazers, the trails are groomed for cross-country skiers as well. Trailblazers regularly grooms these trails and removes fallen trees. On our ride, there are no downed trees to worry about. In the last five days, the valley received more than 20 inches of snow and we ride through powder stashes.
While I love an adventure on skis and trails, it was especially fun to get back on these trails and ride fast. Our ride continues as the sun begins to set past Byers Peak, and temperature rise a bit.
West Yellowstone, 600 miles north of us, may be the snowmobile capital of the world, and Grand Lake, 45 miles north, may be the snowmobile capitol of Colorado, but here in the Fraser Valley, our tour has a pristine quality to it with trees covered in snow and the Continental Divide serving as a guidepost for orientation.
We end the day with pink alpenglow reflecting off the pure white snow on the high peaks. We all stop to take a picture of this scene we have seen a million times, but not from this vantage point and not after a great ride on snow machines. This crew knows this valley, skiing and snowshoeing it in winter and mountain biking and hiking these trails in the summer, but we are still in wonder, still hoping to see a moose, and still in awe of the alpenglow at the end of the day,