Snowmobiling for the Telluride of your life

A snowmobile adventure in Colorado is an adrenaline-charged way to explore Telluride’s stunning backcountry.

The pristine quiet of the snowy backcountry outside Telluride Colorado was shattered by the roar of the powerful snowmobile engine as I took a deep breath, opened the throttle and hurtled up a near-vertical slope at breakneck speed. This activity was optional and one I nearly passed on, but my pride and sometimes reckless sense of adventure (you only live once) urged me forward. The thrill (relief I was still alive) and the view were totally worth it.

I am not by nature a ‘rev-head’ and normally prefer to enjoy nature as it was intended; peaceful and quiet. So skiing is one of my favourite winter pastimes. But lured by the possibility of exploring some spectacular backcountry views, intrigued at the prospect of a visit to Alta Ghost Town and keen to conquer an exciting new form of on-snow fun, I opted in to a two-hour snowmobile tour with Telluride Outfitters. It’s perfect for beginner/intermediate riders and great for couples, singles or families.

© Visit Telluride
© Visit Telluride

Waivers and warm clothes

After signing the paperwork (waivers signing away liability and heightening my anxiety), my group was transferred via a short drive to the trailhead and snowmobile base in a wooded clearing. Warm clothing, gloves and sturdy shoes are required (ski gear is ideal). Plus, helmets can be supplied by the tour company prior to setting off. And don’t forget to visit the porta-potty because where you’re going, no such comfort stops are available.

There is a choice of driving your own snowmobile or doubling up (as reassuringly, a mother and her young daughter in our group opt to do).

Mastering the snowmobile

Delegated to one of a line of impressively big, solid and racy-looking machines, our lovely expert female guide gives us a brief run-down on how to safely operate them. It’s apparently easy once you’ve mastered the basic controls. Turn it on and either accelerate or brake. Simple. However, for first-time riders, you soon find out they appear to have a mind of their own as the skis slip and slide on the snow. It takes skill, caution and experience to get the feel of riding one and to become comfortable navigating the sometimes narrow, snowy trails, hills, curves and bumps. Once you do, the exhilaration and fun kick in. Or that could be the altitude – the tour is at an elevation of around 3,600 metres.

High altitude fun © Visit Telluride

Mining relics in a ghost town

First stop after winding through forest on both sides of the trail was at a clearing where we stopped to hear the history and take photos of the remains of the original wooden structures and mining relics of Alta ghost town; a picture postcard in the snowy woods. Established in 1877, the gold mine was active until after World War II, when the mill burned down. Powered at first by coal, which took pack mules 6.4 kilometres and one day to deliver, Alta became famous as the first place to be powered by Tesla’s AC transmission system.

The natural setting could not be more mesmerising; a blue sky-framed backdrop of some of Colorado’s highest peaks. Immortalised on the Coors beer bottle, Wilson Peak is one of the world’s most iconic peaks and the symbol of the San Juan Mountain Range. It sits proudly centre-stage for those jaw-dropping photos or selfies and we can hardly tear ourselves away and back to the snowmobiles.

High altitude fun © Caroline Davidson
© Caroline Davidson

Night hikes and the need for speed

Other highlights are the opportunity to ‘gun’ the snowmobiles at a higher (but safe) speed to try them and our newfound skills in an open meadow and up that hill. I am now hooked on the need for speed!

There is also a delightful backwoods log cabin, The Observatory at Alta Lakes, sleeping up to 12 people. It is one of the very few such cabins at such a high altitude in the USA. Located under Palmyra and Silver Peaks and accessible by skis, snowmobile or 4WD in summer, it is bookable on Airbnb. This is planted firmly on my bucket list when a local describes their stay there – they hiked at night to the nearby slopes and skied down under the light of the full moon.

Telluride, my next thrill awaits.

Fact file

● You must be 18 years old and a licensed driver (licence/ID required) to operate a single snowmobile. Or, 21 years to double with a child.
● Two-hour Alta Ghost Town tour single USD$235 double USD$335 plus 20 per cent cash tip
● For more information: altalakes.com


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