Grand Lake-to-forest snowmobile trail opens |

Grand Lake-to-forest snowmobile trail opens

Tonya Bina
Grand Lake, CO Colorado
Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi Daily News
Sky-Hi Daily News | Sky-Hi Daily News

GRAND LAKE – The snowmobile trail connection from Grand Lake to the U.S. Forest Service trail system opened at noon on Jan. 23 – much later than past years due to this year’s late snowfalls.

“In a normal year, the trail would have been opened by Christmas vacation. We’re way behind,” said Tom Mason, board member of both the Grand Lake Trail Groomers nonprofit organization and the Trail Blazers social club.

Since the trail connects the village of Grand Lake to the snowmobile trail system, it’s considered a high-priority trail for the town’s economic well-being. The trail grants visiting snowmobilers the ability to stay in Grand Lake and access 100 miles of U.S. Forest Service terrain without having to trailer machines to a trailhead.

“I’m very excited that trail is open. The town needs the business that snowmobilers provide,” said Grand Lake Trail Groomers president Nick Hanson, owner of On The Trail Snowmobile Rental just outside of Grand Lake. “That trail is the lifeline for the town in the wintertime. For businesses in general, all the hotels, restaurants and rental businesses suffer when that trail is not open.”

“It’s one of the few towns in the West where you can ride your snowmobile from town to the trail system,” Mason said.

The four-mile trail is accessed near the Gateway Inn, then travels through the town-leased Thomasson Park, crosses Highway 34 to Golf Course Road, turns and enters utility corridors on two miles of Rocky Mountain National Park lands, then crosses CR 49 and continues to 491, paralleling that to a road junction that leads to the U.S. National Forest boundary.

This complicated route requires the coordination and cooperation of private landowners, the Town of Grand Lake, Grand County, the U.S. Forest Service, and the National Park Service. The nonprofit Trail Groomers organization grooms the trail.

Because the trail crosses two miles of National Park property, District Ranger Mark McCutcheon serves as the gatekeeper each year, allowing the opening of the trail depending on Mother Nature.

“I look for 14 to 18 inches of snow on the ground,” McCutcheon said. “And then before we open it, groomers come in to mechanically track it and pack it, which hardens it. What we’re looking for is something that can sustain literally thousands of snowmobilers.”

Although the trail is only “marginally” ready, McCutcheon said, he is relying on weather forecasts that are promising more snow in the coming week.

“We have more snow than most places,” said Grand Lake Chamber Executive Director Lisa Jenkins, who pointed out the Extreme Mountain Racing snowmobile circuit is returning to Grand Lake “because in other areas there is not enough snow,” she said. “We’re really fortunate we do have as much as we do.”

“November was about as good as it has been in most years,” Hanson said of the snow coverage at the trail system. “We started out with high expectations, but then December fell flat, except for up in the high country.”

Groomers have been expert at moving “whatever snow we had to cover up thin spots,” he said.

“It’s been a challenging year, but it’s starting to look up now.”

Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603

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