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

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!

A New Winter Season of Snowmobiling Adventures

Snowmobiling Near Vail Colorado

We’ve already welcomed the first snowfall of the season here in the Vail Valley, and we’re getting excited for a winter full of of snowmobiling adventures!

The snowmobiles are ready. The snowcats will soon begin grooming trails throughout this 6,000-acre private mountain playground. And our guides are thrilled to start welcoming guests for these incredible trips.

To get a feel for the snowmobiling experience here at Sage Outdoor Adventures, check out this tour of the operation:

This is winter fun at its finest!

Having a base of operations on a beautiful private mountain near Vail, Colorado allows us to offer a snowmobiling experience that’s unrivaled. It’s one of our greatest points of pride here at Sage Outdoor Adventures. It’s a big part of what makes us different.

A snowmobile tour with us means having access to 6,000 rideable acres. What does that mean for our guests? To put it in perspective, that’s bigger than the Vail ski area. And it’s entirely private. The only people you’ll see on the entire mountain are other Sage guests. Most tour companies rely on Forest Service permits. They are forced to deal with public conditions and are restricted to specific trails and small play areas.

Our riders get to explore the entire mountain. This mountain paradise has 2,500 feet of vertical, more than 100 miles of maintained trails, and expansive meadows for open riding. Our base of operations sits at 8,100 feet elevation, the same as Vail and Beaver Creek Villages. Most of our mountain is north-facing, which preserves snow conditions on our trails.

Trail quality is another major point of pride. Our crew sets the standard for excellent trails and grooming. We operate three Snowcats for grooming, plus five drag groomers that are pulled by snowmobiles. Trail maintenance takes a lot of effort and our team is the best in the business. On a snowmobile ride with us, you won’t have to worry about hitting washboard sections or nasty dips. You’ll be free to enjoy the incredible scenery and an experience like nowhere else!

Finally, the private mountain experience offers an unparalleled level of comfort. Whereas operators on public trails are forced to use temporary check-in trailers and outhouses, our guests enjoy a cozy cabin at our mountain base. Our base is nestled in a scenic valley with incredible views. The cabin is a great place for customers to relax, with wood burning stoves, fully equipped restrooms and a 5,000 square-foot deck overlooking the valley.

The best mountain and the greatest facilities wouldn’t mean what they do without our incredible team. Our people are still what make a Sage experience truly special. But having the opportunity to operate in such an incredible location sure doesn’t hurt!

To learn more bout the winter experience here at Sage, please take a few minutes to scroll through our Snowmobiling Page. You’ll find information on trips, pricing and more. To reserve dates, just follow the “book now” button on the website. Or if you’d like to discuss it with our team, feel free to give us a call at 970-476-3700.

The Summer Season is a Wrap – Time to Think About Snow

Summer Season

Fall is in the air and we are already getting stoked for snowmobiling season here in Colorado! But before we jump straight into winter sports mode, we want to say thank you to everyone for a wonderful summer season!

Thanks to each of our guests to joined us this summer for a whitewater rafting adventure, a side-by-side ATV thrill ride, a memorable day of horseback riding, or some incredible fly fishing. We enjoyed meeting folks from all over the world and it’s truly our greatest pleasure to have the opportunity to share in your adventures. Thank you!

Summer Season Rafting

A big shout out also goes to our summer staff. Without these energetic and outgoing folks, your adventures wouldn’t be possible. We’re proud to have some of the best staff in the business here at Sage Outdoor Adventures. And we are thankful for their hard work this summer!

Our 2020 summer season was very memorable. We enjoyed great weather throughout the summer, perfect for enjoying the beautiful mountain scenery here in the Vail Valley and surrounding areas. The rafting season was a ton of fun, from early season on Gore Creek and the Eagle River, down to the late summer trips on the Colorado River and the Arkansas River. All around, it was a fun rafting season.

Side-by-Side ATV Ride

Our horseback riders and side-by-side ATV riders had the opportunity to enjoy plenty of wildflowers and wildlife throughout the summer. There’s no bad time to explore our private mountain on horseback or ATV. But when the weather cooperates, it’s very hard to beat.

With the summer season behind us, we can now look forward to snowmobiling and a fun season of winter activities! We plan to open our winter snowmobiling operation in time for Thanksgiving. If you are planning a vacation to Vail or Beaver Creek during the holidays, please give us a call.

These snowmobile rides are a blast. We can easily accommodate families and it’s a perfect distancing activity. We operate on a private mountain that’s actually larger than Vail ski area! You’ll have this pristine landscape all to yourself, along with its incredible views – talk about space! Get away from the hustle and bustle of the ski runs, and join us for a backcountry ride through this winter wonderland.

To learn more about our snowmobile trips, please check out our snowmobiling page. For specific availability or details, give us call at 970-476-3700 or send us a message.

See you when the snow falls!

Featured River: The Arkansas River

The whitewater rafting season has been outstanding here in the Vail valley and across Colorado, and we’d like to introduce you to another one of our favorite rivers.

In case you missed our previous featured rivers, go back and check out our profile on the Shoshone rapids through Glenwood canyon. Also check out the upper Eagle River and Gore Creek, which offer some of Colorado’s best early season rafting from Vail, down through Avon and Beaver Creek.

This time, let’s talk about the Arkansas River. The ‘Ark’ is well-known in Colorado for it’s incredible whitewater all summer long. But there’s more than just rapids that make the Arkansas special.

“The Arkansas River brings to mind crystal clear, relatively warm water, in a semi-arid desert with warm air temps that create a perfect rafting environment,” Commented Cole Bangert, owner and guide here at Sage.  “It’s totally unique in the west. The flows on the Ark are augmented by reservoirs upstream, so rafting is phenomenal all summer; not just during early snow melt periods, like you see on the Eagle River or Clear Creek.”

According to Cole, the backdrop on the Arkansas River also makes it unique. The entire corridor is lined with towering 14,000-foot peaks, the highest concentration of “14-ers” in the state. With snow-capped peaks above and desert granite boulders below, the banks of the Arkansas River are scattered ponderosa pine, and the vanilla aroma from their bark fills the air.

If all that isn’t enough, the whitewater is top quality. 

“The upper stretches of the Arkansas boast big class V rapids, with the steepest commercially run rapid in the U.S.,” Cole added. “The Pine Creek section drops at a gradient of over 200 feet per mile. This is a mile-long class V rapid with tricky moves, fast water, big waves, and big hydraulics that must be run with precision and power.”

Just below Pine Creek is the popular, “Numbers” stretch, where rafters will find some of the most fun class IV drops anywhere in Colorado.

And finally, below the town of Buena Vista is the most popular stretch on the Arkansas River, Browns Canyon National Monument. This spectacular canyon was designated a National Monument in 2015, and for good reason.

“Here, you have the opportunity to float through a jaw-dropping gorge,” Cole concluded. “It consists of ten miles of class III rapids, where groups and families can enjoy an incredible experience amid these impressive natural surroundings.”

For more information on our rafting trips, or on any of the great outdoor adventures that we offer from Sage headquarters in Vail, explore the rest of our website at SageOutdoorAdventures.com or call us at 970-476-3700.