The Snowcats of Sage Part 2: Operating a Snowcat

Snowcat Grooming

One of the things that makes 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 operate a snowcat.

Operating a Snowcat

If you’ve ever seen snowcats grooming a ski hill, cruising 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 that 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

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.”

Groomed Snowmobile Trails

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.”

But make no mistake; it takes a very skilled driver. When operating 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 on the joy stick. 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!”

Snowcat

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!

Snowmobile Trail Grooming

The Snowcats of Sage Part 1: How to Maintain a Mountain

Snowmobile Trail Grooming Equipment

Here at Sage, we’re extremely proud of our fleet of professional snow grooming equipment. Not only do we offer an incredible variety of snowmobile trails across a 6,000-acre private mountain. But we also take great care in our trail design and grooming operations. Come ride with us on this mountain and we guarantee to put a big grin on your face.

While most snowmobile guide services rely on shared Forest Service trails with very little control over the conditions, we’re fortunate to operate on a private mountain larger than Vail ski area. Here, guests of Sage Outdoor Adventures have the whole place to themselves.

Grooming Snowmobile Trails

Operating on a private mountain means we’re able to custom-design our trail systems. And as soon as the snow starts flying, our snowcats keep those trails in excellent riding condition. But grooming trails and operating a snowcat it’s not as easy as turning a key and hitting a throttle. It takes practice and some serious snow-know-how.

We recently caught up with Sage Owner and Director of Operations, Cole Bangert, to talk about snowcats and grooming…and why it’s harder than it looks!

“This snowcat (pictured below) is a smallish sized cat to fit our unique trails,” Cole began. “The size of this cat allows us to groom trails through aspen groves and in some unique places. We do have a bigger snow cat as well, like the size you would see up on the ski hill. We use that larger cat for our play meadows and some of the bigger trails with deep snow drifts and more powder.”

Snowmobile Trail Grooming Equipment

The snowcat pictured here is a Prinoth Husky. Sage purchased it brand new for $215,000.

“But getting the equipment is only the first step,” Cole told us. “Having someone capable of driving it is a whole other thing. These things have 12-way blades, plus the tiller operation. Once you master those, there’s the trick of actually driving it without hitting trees. Grooming trails in a snowcat takes multi-tasking to a new level.”

It certainly isn’t easy or cheap to operate a fleet of snowcats. But it’s a necessary investment to keep these snowmobile trails in prime condition.

“When grooming, the driver is always making assessments based on a variety of factors,” Cole explained. “You have to consider snow deposition, density and wind direction. A good cat driver must also consider ‘snow farming’ or where we increase snow depth for future use. Whenever we’re pushing drifts around, we’re planning ahead for the springtime so that we can maximize trail depth as the days get longer and temperatures get warmer.”

Grooming Snowmobile Trails

These practices make for great snowmobile experiences throughout the winter, and they help extend our snowmobile season into the beautiful spring months here in the Colorado high country.

There’s no doubt that driving a snowcat and grooming trails takes practice and skill. A great driver takes all these factors into account, all without running into trees along the way!

But according to Cole, the real secret and all you need to be the world’s best cat operator is right here:

What it takes to be a snowcat operator.

If you’d like to learn more about our guided snowmobile trips, please take a few minutes to explore our snowmobiling information. We’d love to help you plan a memorable backcountry snowmobile adventure here in Colorado!

The Best Snowmobile Experience in the Vail Valley

It’s a bold statement. But we will gladly make it. We truly believe that we offer the very best snowmobile experience in the Vail Valley, period.

Make no bones about it; this high country snowmobile tour is not like any other.  What’s the difference maker? It’s that we operate on a beautiful and historic private mountain, an area larger than Vail Ski area.

Family Snowmobile Tour

But boasting about ‘a private mountain’ may not mean anything at first glance. So what does that mean in reality? First, most snowmobile operations are based on Forest Service land, where they aren’t permitted to build permanent structures. That means you’ve got a port-o-potty on the side of a logging road.

Here at Sage, we are blessed with a comfortable base of operations. Our guests arrive to a cozy lodge and our base of operations. You’ll be able to prepare for your snowmobile adventure in comfort. And yes, we have real restrooms!

But the benefits of a private mountain experience don’t end there. We’ve got a lineup of serious grooming equipment and more than 100 miles of professionally groomed trails! Operations on Forest Service land are forced into existing designated trails and don’t have the ability to customize rides for snowmobile tours.

Our many varied trails were designed and are maintained for snowmobiling. They aren’t just old logging roads. You’ll experience open sage flats, giant stands of aspen, winding turns through spruce forests, and jaw-dropping views from the edge of the Eagle River canyon, tumbling more than 2,400 feet below you.

We also groom and maintain 10 sprawling meadows, specifically for playing on snowmobiles! With 6,000 acres to explore and backcountry views of six different mountain ranges, it doesn’t take long to realize why this really is the very best snowmobile experience in the Vail valley.

For options and pricing, please check out our Snowmobiling Page. You can also call us at 970-476-3700 or contact us online.

Kick Your Holiday Plans Up a Notch with A Snowmobile Adventure

This winter, there may be no better way to celebrate the Holidays than with a big mountain snowmobile adventure! With ski areas requiring reservations and operating at limited capacity, come enjoy the 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!

Our private mountain is larger than Vail ski area and home to more than 100 miles of trails. Social distance isn’t an issue and we take sanitizing between each ride very seriously.

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. We offer transportation to and from your hotel in Beaver Creek, Vail or Avon. That leaves plenty of 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!

What to Wear on Your Colorado Snowmobile Adventure

We’re looking forward to a great winter of snowmobiling here in the Vail Valley. As we prepare, our staff is busy grooming trails, prepping equipment and getting ready for a busy season of outdoor adventure. While we’re working to get ready, we want to make sure you’re ready too!

Not sure what to bring? We’re here to help. COVID has forced us to make a few adjustments to the way we handle winter gear rentals. Here’s what you need to know…

Because it’s time consuming to sanitize gear between trips, we are asking our guests to wear their own winter clothes. This includes boots, face coverings, gloves and goggles. Some gear will be available for rental. But because we will carefully sanitize all items after use and let them dry overnight, availability will be limited.

We provide guests with DOT approved snowmobiling helmets on every trip. Do not bring your ski helmet – you won’t be allowed to wear it. Helmets that we provide will only be used once per day. We will sanitize all helmets overnight for the next day’s use.

To learn more about our COVID response, please click here.

Want to know more about what clothing, boots and other items you should bring? No problem! Here’s a quick rundown:

Starting from the toes and moving up, you’ll want a decent pair of winter boots. We recommend an insulated, waterproof snow boot that comes well above the ankle.

Next, you’ll want to bring your own ski apparel. Dress just like you were getting ready to go skiing – layer long underwear and your ski pants on bottom. On top, bring your ski jacket and appropriate layering underneath. Depending on the current weather conditions, you may want to layer a puffy underneath the ski jacket, or perhaps a lighter fleece along with a long underwear top.

Next, bring a neck gaiter or full-face balaclava to keep your face warm. Additionally, bring your ski goggles. These two items are critical when ripping around the mountain on your snowmobile!

Finally, bring a warm pair of ski gloves. Our new, top-of-the-line of Ski-Doo snowmobiles do have hand warmers on the grips. But you’ll still need gloves for your ride.

Check out the video as Cole explains how to dress for the trip:

If you have any questions about guided snowmobile trips with Sage Outdoor Adventures, please visit our Snowmobiling Page or you can contact us. We hope to see you here on the mountain soon!