Rabbit Ears Pass – Colorado’s Snowmobiling Mecca
Ski Town USA is getting rowdy. In Steamboat Springs, Colorado, the approaching ski season is in the air. Just driving down the main drag, you can see and feel the difference. Gear swaps and sales, classes at the rec center specifically designed to get your skiing legs back, and my personal favorite- the roller-blade inspired “roller-skis” that dedicated souls all over town are using to cruise up and down the cement slopes. There is no denying it- this is a ski town. But there’s another snow sport that has a strong and growing presence in Steamboat. It’s one that may not be noticed as you pass through. In garages all over town tune-ups and repairs are being performed, snowmobiles are being prepped. Snowmobiling has been gaining momentum as one of the area’s most popular winter activities. And slednecks, (defined by the Urban Dictionary as “a person from a mountain state that tears it up on a snowmobile”) are enthusiastic about the promise of another epic season here in northwest Colorado. Skiers and snowmobilers alike await the snow.
A central reason for the prevelance of snowmobiling in this area is Rabbit Ears Pass, in the Routt National Forest. The Pass is the snowmobile Mecca of Colorado. X-games competitors frequent the area and the longest snowmobile jump in history was recorded there. If you were to sit on the summit and get out your binoculars you would be able to spot numerous enthusiasts enjoying the area. On the highway’s edge there are trailers of all sizes and shapes. In the distance are guided tours that resemble ants on a march as they zoom up and down the hills. And hopefully, if you know where the pros hang out, you’ll catch some wild jumps and cliff dropping. Rabbit Ears Pass is simply a phenomenal area to ride. If offers a sublime combination of accessabily, diverse terrain and an abundance of snow.
Accessibility is foremost. Poor access makes great terrain useless. This is why a crowded and expensive ski resort is more popular than the thousands of miles of wide-open backcountry. For most of us, our playtime is limited and we would rather not spend it en route. From Steamboat, the Pass and endless snowmobiling is a mere twelve miles east. Riding is as simple as parking in one of the several lots lining the highway and unloading your sled. For destination travelers who have a healthy budget to spend in satisfying their snowmobiling appetite, an airport lies thirty minutes west of town and Steamboat has plenty of accommodations to suit any tastes.
The diversity of the terrain is tremendous. Beginners have groomed trails. Intermediate riders have single track and hills with varying degrees of steepness. The people out there with a death wish- they have cliffs. And everyone gets to enjoy countless open meadows on powder days. This assortment brings a wide array of experience levels to the Pass. It’s also a wonderful fit for commercial tours. Guided tours blend excitement and safety. They also help to ensure the proliferation of snowmobiling by introducing people to the sport. Some of these newcomers will become addicts and, like the rest of us, spend lots of money supporting their habit and the industry.
Finally, the white fluffy icing on the proverbial cake. The delectable snow. Aptly icknamed “champagne powder”, the snow that falls on the Yampa Valley is renowned for being lighter than that of other regions in Colorado. Lighter snow intensifies that floating feeling, the ultimate perk of snow sports. Sure, speed has some allure, and leaning into an impeccably carved turn can feel like cheating the laws of physics, but to float is undeniably divine.
Next time you and your family pack your sweaters and mittens and head for the mountains, consider Steamboat Springs as a destination. The exceptional ski resort draws a crowd all on its own, but the availability of many other snow sports makes this town unique. Trek off the beaten path and into the wilderness on a snowmobile and return with tales to tell.
Claire Chappell spent years as a professional guide in sports such as snowmobiling and whitewater rafting, and now helps visitors plan sensational vacations to the Rocky Mountains. Claire owns Steamboat Vacations, a local company that specializes in connecting travelers with amazing Outdoor Activites and Tours in Steamboat Springs.
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