Snowmobiling Vail Pass 2003
By Gene Lucas
One of my favorite winter past times in Colorado is snowmobiling. The winter of 2003
had about an average snow fall for the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Early March is a great
time of year to take the sleds up to Vail Pass and do some spring snowmobiling. This year
was no exception. Mom and Brother Bob came out from Indiana and Illinois to visit in March.
Bob brought his young boy Jake with them, Jake and Mom are always ready for adventure. We pulled
the sleds out of storage on a Friday afternoon. Our plan was to take them home and make
sure they would run before we headed up to Vail on Saturday. Bob and Jake planned on
heading over to Glenwood Springs after we got done. He has a life long friend Stan Trulock
over there. No trip to Colorado is complete until he spends a few days in Glenwood Springs.
This is Moms first winter trip to Colorado. She has spent the last 20 years in sunny
Bakersfield, California. I think she was a little apprehensive about going up into the
high country. I had told her to bring all the warm clothes she had. She said she
would be fine. One thing about Mom is she never complains. She just told me when she was
growing up in Ohio she used to walk 4 miles to school and during the winter they would
be walking on the snow drifts some times on top of the fence posts. I was only hoping
she could remember how cold that was!
The hour drive up to Vail Pass was uneventful since we had not had any new snow in a week.
We hopped off I-70 at the road side rest at Vail Pass and took the frontage road down to our
favorite parking spot. We suited up with our boots and snowmobiling clothes just enough to
keep us a little warm while we unloaded every thing. We had packed a lunch and some drinks
for the trip. We had 2 sleds and 4 people so it was going to be a little crowded today. It
was overcast and we were supposed to get snow that evening in Denver, so we were
planning for snow that afternoon at the pass. Most people that have never
snowmobiled think that it is a very cold sport, but actually it can be just the opposite. When
you are constantly fighting the sleds and moving around you can get pretty warm. The heat
from the engine is deflected to openings at your feet, and you have a windshield to keep
the cold air off your face. The only time you can really get cold is when you stop to eat
lunch or rest.
Once the sleds are off the trailer and warmed up we are off. We head straight for the top,
taking the hiking road so as to not terrify Mom. She is enjoying the scenery and ride but
hanging on to me with a death grip. We are slowly winding our way up towards the open area
where there are few trees and deep powder. In that area there is an out house. You can tell
how good the snow is by looking at the deepth of the snow against the out house. The roof
of the building is about 10 feet tall. A few years ago while up there you could drive over
the roof of the out house. This year as you can see from the picture the snow is deep but
we are not going to be able drive over the building. We take a break here and get some good pictures of the mountains and snow then we head
out into the play area to romp in some powder. They had about 8 to 10 inches of fresh snow
the night before, fresh powder is always better. We blast in and out of some of the deep snow
which causes the snow to blow into your face. We then head up to the top of the mountain.
The parking lot is at about 11,000 feet so by now we are at 13,000 feet. These flat landers
are starting to suck air!
We wind thru the trees and deep powder on our winter journey to to the top. Once you get on
top the first thing you notice is the lack of trees. The flat landers soon realize there is
not much air up there to breath. We ride to the top and take a well needed break.
It is windy and very cold up there so we do not stay long. We are going to head back down
to the upper play area and bust some drifts.
As we head back down I show them the road to Camp Hale, a World War II winter training area.
They have cabins up there and we try to stay at least 1 weekend during the winter there.
We stop when we are out of the wind and have a little snack of crackers and pop. At this
point we are probably 5 miles from the parking lot. With 2 people on each sled you cannot
travel very fast. After break we work our way back to the parking lot and drop off Mom
and Jake. Bob and I head back up for some serious riding. It only takes us about 10
minutes to get back to the top. Up there we try to see who can climb the highest on the steep
side of the mountain. This is called king of the mountain. I have my sled while Bob is on Joann's sled.
Since mine is bigger and faster I win hands down.
We stop and take a break and switch sleds so Bob will now have the fastest one. That was
the first big mistake of the day. We head back down, he is taking the main road while I am
the trees and powder. When I get out into the open area he is no where in site. I head back
up the mountain but no Bob. I head back down to the play area and as I do, I catch a glimps
of something that looks like a helmet. I am not sure what it is so I head over in that
direction. Bob is laying on the ground about in tears. The snowmobile is about 20 feet
back in a culvert. He had turned into the play area to soon and dropped down into a creek
that has 15 feet of snow on top of it. When he hit the other side of the creek
bed he flew off the sled and his knee hit the handle bars. The handle bars are bent straight
up from the force of his knee. The sled is trashed and his knee is trashed. Without
help I am not going to be able to get the snowmobile out of the creek.
We talk a bit trying to come up with a game plan. I then try to get the snowmobile out of
the creek, but the snow is so soft that I am having no luck. It just keeps digging deeper
and deeper into the snow. I am not going to be able to pull it out with the other sled
because it is just to small to pull this one out. It is now late in the day and most people
have already headed back to there trucks. After about 30 minutes we decide to just leave
the stuck snowmobile and head back to the truck on the good one. We start to load him up
on Joann's sled when 2 snow boarders on snowmobiles show up. These guys are prepared for
some serious back country boarding. They have big mountain sleds with big engines. One of
them connects his tow rope to the sled in the creek and just pulls it out with very little
effort. After we thank him endlessly, I survey the damage. The right ski is bent in about
6 inches and the left handle bar is sticking straight up. We decide we better get going
because it is starting to get dark.
I put him on the good snowmobile all the while he is screaming in pain. I drive the wreck
back. The steering wheel is turned about half way just to keep the sled going straight. We
get back to the truck and I load the sleds up. I put Bob in his van and he heads back to
Denver. Glenwood Springs will have to wait until next year. Once we get back he decides his
game plan is to just get up early in the am and head back to Illinois to have his doctor
look at the damage to his knee. So I load up his cooler and suitcases in his van so he can
get up early and head back. We then retire for the night, poor Bob is in serious pain. But
after 4 or 5 beers he is asleep on the couch. At 3 am we are up and I am trying to get him
in the van, he is still in screaming pain. I give him a big bottle to pee in because he
not going to be able to get out of the van, and I send him home. What a sis! As we find out
a couple days later he has split his knee cap in 4 pieces and will need to have surgery to
remove the cap. Plus while he is in the emergency room he has Jake with him and they x ray
Jake's arm and it is broken. Jake has been out there 2 weeks with us with a broken arm. He
never complained about it. Guess he is a lot like Mom. Well next year we will just not get
off the porch.
Last updated on 1/4/2005.
Copyright Gene Lucas 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007,
2008,2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018. All rights reserved.