The Snowcats of Sage Part 2: How to Operate a Snowcat

Snowcat Grooming

One of the things that make our snowmobile trips among the best in Colorado, is our fleet of snowcats and our grooming operation. Here on this 6,000-acre private mountain, we enjoy an incredible trail system of custom-designed snowmobile routes, all maintained for ideal riding conditions.

In case you missed the first part in this series, go check it out here. In this second part, we’re talking with Sage Outdoor Adventures owner and director of operations, Cole Bangert, on what it takes to drive a snowcat.

Driving a Snowcat

What’s Happening Behind the Wheel of a Snowcat

If you’ve ever seen snowcats grooming a ski hill, driving up and down the mountain, you might have no idea what goes into operating and maintaining these machines. And it’s probably more than you think!

According to Cole, the blade on the front of the machine is the most crucial part, that is the workhorse of the cat – of course aside from the motor and hydraulic pumps that drive it. But the more you can do with the blade, the better.

“The blade is made to roll snow and introduce heat into the snowpack through the rolling motion,” Cole told us. “Then, the snow passes underneath the tracks that pack the fresh snow downward. Finally, the tiller on the back of the machine reprocesses the snow and the plastic flaps leave the nice corduroy lines that you’re used to seeing on the ski hill. In one pass, going about 8 to 10 miles an hour, you can take a rough road or a very sloppy road, and turn it into a nice and firm, smooth surface.”

Grooming Snowmobile Trails for Pristine Driving

How much does a Snowcat Cost

Aside from the initial upfront cost of buying a snowcat, the expense of putting them on the snow is pretty high.

“We estimate that it costs about $400 every time you start and run the snowcat, even if it’s only for an hour,” Cole explained. “Of course the hourly expense goes up the longer that you’re out grooming. If you are grooming a lot, that means there’s tons of snow on the ground and that is a very good feeling. But it’s also a big cost to keep up with.”

Why so expensive to operate? A number of factors drive up the cost. From complicated parts to rough winter conditions, it’s not easy to keep a snowcat on the snow.

“Snowcats are mighty machines in a small package,” Cole added. “They run off diesel motors, usually Mercedes or Cummins diesel motors. And all the new snowcats also have an EPA-required regeneration system on the exhaust that tends to be very problematic.

“What’s more, the hydraulic pumps that power the tiller, the blade, and the drive tracks are extremely temperamental. Even one small droplet of water entering that hydraulic pump system can destroy a $35,000 hydraulic pump.”

Sage's Snowcat

Consider the fact that snowcats operate in sub-zero temperatures almost all the time. When you add very cold temperatures, very high pressures, and small moving parts, along with lots of snow and ice, it all adds up to frequent problems.

“Overall though, snowcats are very cool tools,” Cole emphasized. “And honestly, they are quite fun to drive.”

How to Drive a Snowcat

Make no mistake; it takes a very skilled driver. When driving a snowcat, many things are happening all at the same time.

“If you can pat your head and rub your tummy, then you’re a fraction of the way to being able to drive a snowcat,” said Cole. “You’ve got your drive sticks on the left-hand throttle, with your right foot on the windshield wiper and your left foot controlling the blade and tiller operations, while your right hand is on the joystick. And all the while, you’re trying not to run into trees and rocks or get stuck…and don’t forget the big one – trying not to dig holes!”

Driving a Snowcat takes a lot of focus

An easy way to spot a rookie snowcat driver is if you go on a trail that has the feel of a rollercoaster, up and down, up and down.

“It’s important to look ahead, judge your momentum, the snowpack, and snow density,” Cole explained. “You must cut where you need to cut, deposit where you need to deposit, but not overdo it because if you continually dig a hole and then deposit and then dig another hole and deposit, you’re just making one big roller-coaster trail. And it’s very difficult to fix once this has happened.”

It may be complicated. And it’s certainly not easy. But there’s no question that we’re extremely proud of our grooming operations here at Sage. In large part, it’s what makes our private mountain experience a fantastic one for our guests.

If you’d like to learn more about our guided snowmobile trips, please take a few minutes to look through the information on our Snowmobiling Page, and don’t hesitate to contact us with questions. We’d love to help you plan an unforgettable backcountry mountain experience!

The Famed Snowmobile Operator

Don’t Just Ride a Snowmobile – Learn How to Drive One

somewhat aerial view of someone snowmobiling

We don’t offer a “follow the guide and keep up” kind of snowmobile tour. The experience at Sage Outdoor Adventures is something completely different. On a tour with us, you won’t just ride a snowmobile – you will truly learn how to drive one.

Our Snowmobile Guides

Our snowmobile guides are the best in the business: they are friendly, outgoing, and excellent teachers. Dedicated to having the most possible fun on any snowmobile ride means you’ll learn some new skills along the way, no matter how experienced you are at driving a snowmobile.

Learn how to drive a snowmobile at Sage

Each of our guided snowmobile tours is done with a very small guest-to-guide ratio. Because of that, we are able to customize every tour: no two rides are ever the same. Our guides will always make the effort to meet the needs of each group and make sure you feel comfortable on your machine.

The Perfect Setting to Learn

In addition to having a team of outstanding snowmobile guides, our base area is the perfect place to begin. Just 50 yards from the starting point, you’ll enter a giant “practice meadow” where you can learn the feel of driving your snowmobile in a pressure-free setting.

Our guests have the opportunity to cruise around the meadow and practice turns. Then you’ll be off to explore this giant winter wonderland!

With freshly groomed trails, practice meadows, and so much beautiful terrain to freely explore, you’ll learn how to snowmobile in the best possible setting. Our hope is that each of our guests will appreciate the joy and freedom of snowmobiling.

For more information on guided snowmobile tours with Sage, please take a few minutes to check out our snowmobiling page. We can’t wait to help you plan a memorable snowmobiling adventure.

Kick Your Holiday Plans Up a Notch with A Snowmobile Adventure

Enjoy the snow with a snowmobile tour

This winter, there may be no better way to celebrate the holidays than with a mountain snowmobile tour in Vail, Colorado! Avoid crowded ski areas and long lift lines and come enjoy the wide-open Colorado mountains on a backcountry snowmobile ride. This is the perfect year to elevate your holiday plans, and join us for your own little slice of heaven out here on the snow!

Vail’s Best Private Snowmobile Trails

Our private mountain is larger than Vail ski area and home to more than 100 miles of trails. With a professional fleet of Snowcats at our disposal, we’re able to build out custom trails specifically designed to optimize your snowmobiling tour. We’ll take you on a tour through an everchanging landscape full of twists and turns, giving you a full view of the stunning scenery in addition to adrenaline-pumping speed. Whether you’re an experienced snowmobiler or are hitting the trails for the first time, our guides will be able to customize the experience to your needs.

From our private mountain, you’ll enjoy towering views that overlook the Eagle River canyon. Feel the wind as you gain speed through open meadows, winding through sage and mountain mahogany. Get a real taste of the Colorado backcountry, riding beneath impressive stands of aspen and spruce. The snowmobiling experience here is unforgettable.

We offer family-friendly guided tours with multiple start times each day. Looking for fun things to do in Avon, Colorado over the holidays? We offer transportation to and from hotels in not only Avon, but Beaver Creek and Vail as well. This added help with logistics leaves more time for your other holiday plans. It makes a perfect family event! Our outstanding guides will make sure that beginners and advanced riders alike will have a great time.

Not sure what to bring? Check out our recent blog post to learn more about what you’ll need to bring and how COVID protocols are affecting our gear rentals.

For details and to book your Colorado mountain snowmobile adventure, check out our Snowmobile Trips Page or call us at 970-476-3700. See you on the mountain!

person snowmobiling

Snowmobiles and the Real Backcountry Experience

snow covered valley

The recent changes in snowmobile technology are even more radical than the change in ski shape over the last 15 years. Emissions are incredibly low and the sport of snowmobiling is exploding. But what does that mean from an environmental perspective? How does snowmobiling compare to other winter sports in terms of its impact?

Who is Snowmobiling nowadays?

From young families to serious outdoor enthusiasts, snowmobiling is a fast-growing sport. Many skiers enjoy a quiet day away from the busy slopes and a chance to do something different with their families. Here at Sage, it’s not uncommon for us to see three generations of riders together on a tour.

The number-one reason our customers say they go snowmobiling is to “experience the wilderness.” To us, this isn’t surprising at all. It’s true, that backcountry experience is the primary draw for most snowmobile riders.

Snowmobile Tour

Common Misconceptions about Snowmobiling

Unfortunately, there’s also a great deal of misperception about snowmobiling. Some folks see them as noisy and polluting. In reality, neither is true. Our modern snowmobiles are incredibly quiet. You are more likely to hear the crunch of the tracks on the snow than you are the engine. And with low emissions and no smell, snowmobiles offer a perfect escape from the bustle of the ski slopes into the tranquility of the mountains.

Snowmobiling through Undisturbed Nature

Our 6,000-acre private mountain near Vail and Beaver Creek is home to resident mule deer, elk, and other wildlife. Our riders frequently see wildlife here on the mountain, where they stay undisturbed through the winter. In terms of environmental impact, a snowmobile ride is far more “green” than a day of riding ski lifts. All of our guided trips give our guests the opportunity to stop, look, listen and just enjoy being still in these stunning places.

Snowmobiling environment

In the end, our guests’ favorite part of these trips is also our favorite part. We’re here because we love the experience. We are skiers too. But a snowmobile ride offers the chance to escape from the crowds and experience the still silence of the backcountry and the mountains in winter.

For more information on our guided snowmobile tours, please take a look at our Snowmobiling Page. Or give us a call at 970-476-3700. We hope to see you here for a snowmobiling adventure soon!

5 Tips For Fly Fishing Colorado’s Wild Rivers

Fly Fishing in Colorado

Fishing conditions on our private stretch of the Piney River are at their best. River flows have come down to the perfect level and summer dry fly fishing continues to be outstanding. When it comes to fly fishing Colorado’s remote and scenic rivers, it doesn’t get any better than this!

To learn more about these guided trips and this epic stretch of private water, see our recent post on guided Piney River fly fishing. In the meantime, here are five tips to remember when fly fishing any of Colorado’s small wilderness rivers!

Fly Fishing in Colorado

Fly fishing on small wilderness rivers, like the Piney River, comes with its own set of challenges and opportunities. Even our guests who are experienced anglers might learn a few new tricks if they are used to fishing on bigger waters.

  1. Pay Attention to Your Profile

The water here can be crystal clear. It’s beautiful, and it’s fun being able to spot the fish. But it’s important to remember that the fish can also see you.

Colorado Fly Fishing Trip

On a guided trip, pay attention to how our guides approach the river. When fishing small wilderness rivers, it’s important to be aware of your profile. If you walk right up to the edge of a cut bank and see the shadows of trout skittering across the river, you’ve gone too far.

Instead, you may need to approach the river cautiously. Don’t let your profile loom over the places where fish are most likely to be holding.

  1. Make Upstream Casts

In many other situations, anglers are used to making quartering-upstream casts, allowing the fly to drift downstream, past the angler’s position.

Here on the Piney River, take note of where your guide positions you for the cast. When fishing these high alpine streams, it’s more common to make upstream casts and allow the fly to drift back down toward the angler.

Fly Fishing in Colorado

Trout tend to face upstream in the current, opportunistically feeding on insects that come drifting down to them. By making an upstream cast, you’re approaching the trout from behind, where they are less likely to see you.

  1. Start at the Bottom of a Run

When you approach a new run or riffle, it’s often beneficial to begin at the downstream or tailing end, and work your way up. This allows you to target the downstream fish first, without spooking the fish at the head of the run.

Vail, Colorado Fly Fishing

This technique isn’t unique to wilderness fishing. The same principle applies to larger rivers. However, it’s especially important on these small alpine waters. In such clear water, it’s easy to spook fish if you’re not careful. When you target fish at the bottom first, and then work your way upstream, you’ll maximize your opportunities.

  1. Don’t Ignore the Little Pockets

Most anglers have a tendency to fish the biggest, most promising-looking runs and riffles on the river. But when you’re fishing on wilderness creeks, don’t skip over the small pockets. You might be shocked at where you’ll find big trout holding. This is true here on the Piney River and most other high country creeks.

Don’t be surprised when your guide asks you to make a cast into a surprisingly small and innocuous-looking piece of pocket water. These little holes can be full of surprises. You might only get a two-second drift through one of these little pockets. But sometimes, that’s all you need for a fish to attack your fly.

Stop and Look Up

When you’re fishing these mountain rivers, the fast-action fishing is exciting. On each cast, you’ll be expecting the water to blow up beneath your dry fly. It’s addicting. And while it’s tempting to keep your head down and tell yourself, “Just one more cast!” don’t forget to lift your eyes and look around you.

The scenery here on the Piney River Ranch is nothing short of stunning. Every once in a while, take a break from casting and enjoy what’s around you. Enjoying the mountain scenery here in Colorado is an important part of the experience.

Colorado Mountain Scenery

Join Us on the Piney River

Our private stretch of the Piney River near Vail is exclusively available to Sage guests and receives no public fishing pressure, making it one of the best spots for fly fishing trips for beginners in Colorado. Additionally, our knowledgeable guides help maximize our guests’ experience. Whether you’re a beginner angler or a crusty old veteran, we work hard to make the most out of your time on the water.

We offer half-day and full-day guided trips on the Piney. To learn more, please explore our Fishing Page. If you have questions about availability or other details, please contact us. We look forward to helping you plan a memorable fly fishing adventure!