The powerful thrust made my body feel heavy in the seat. The rush of airflow invaded my ears, placing a temporary restraint on the thoughts of my past week. The shuddering Boeing climbed higher, reaching into the rays of morning dawn escaping between the pines on the adjacent peak. The rays illuminated the tops of the magnificent, jagged Tetons to the West. Behind me, under me and already out of view was Jackson, Wyoming. What a week it’s been.
The pleasant memories of the Snow Goer Great Escape Tour started the moment I left. I spent a majority of the flight re-capping the memories of the week-long tour last March.
Like many other tour groups, it was more than a vacation for many of the attendees. They had other missions — ulterior motives, perhaps — to accomplish during the Great Escape Tour.
The 2009 Great Escape Tour – sponsored by Snow Goer and hosted by Decker Sno-Venture Tours, took us to the Grand Tetons and the Bridger-Teton National Forest of western Wyoming. Our host resort, the incomparable Togwotee Mountain Lodge, is located about 50 miles northeast of Jackson, Wyoming.
Getting to Togwotee is a journey, but the missions started once we pulled a rope and headed out to the trails.
The first day on the snow kept the getting-acquainted momentum going. Knowing our group was going to be riding together for six days, it was important to build camaraderie and get familiar with the rental equipment. Ten riders took to the trails and backcountry on the first day, and several of the participants hadn’t ridden in the West previously.
I knew some of my tour companions from a previous Snow Goer Great Escape. It’s common for Decker Sno-Venture Tours to have repeat customers. Ray Tencza and Mike Zaglifa, both retired policemen from Illinois, I recognized at the airport on arrival. Both had been on the Great Escape to Revelstoke, British Columbia, one year prior. Fort Collins, Colorado, resident James Watt was the leader in repeat business, sure that last year’s Jackson Hole tour was his twentieth, and Dave Everett, a long-time friend of the Deckers, attended countless tours previously, too.
Several riders were never in the West previously, including Jeff and Christine Grohne. Togwotee guide Brent Schaap started off training the group to use locator beacons correctly, a required device when using any rental machine.
All of us were looking for adventure, and found it immediately. After a short trail ride, Schaap turned across a small pasture, across a creek and up into the trees and meadow after meadow beyond, under 6 inches of fresh snow. Time to make tracks.
Dennis Sobczak operates a pool service company in the summer months; his business is closed for the winter. It allows him to spend the winter riding near his New Berlin, Wisconsin, home and compete in Masters-class racing with the United States Cross Country circuit. He hauled his own sled to Togwotee, a 2008 Polaris 600RR with extended rails. His plan was to spend a few weeks in the West, and the Snow Goer Great Escape Tour was just the beginning of his extended tour.
He wanted to learn to fly properly. Sobczak was sick of tail landings when going big and he wanted to improve his jumping skills.
A group-within-the group often played on the hilly, steep borders of the expansive meadows. We caught air from drifts, jumped from the tops of small hillsides, dropped cornices and flew off moguls. When we found a perfect downhill fly-away, it was time to tune Sobczak’s flight control.
The greatest assistance came from Adam Brummond, a former snocross racer and a frequent Snow Goer photo rider. Brummond joined our tour in time to ride on day two and start coaching on day three. He adjusted Sobczak’s stance, coached him a bit on when to release the throttle and advised him on proper mid-air brake control.
Ohio resident and first-time West rider Wally Cook listened on and wasn’t afraid to scale the ascent and launch from the kicker, either. After four of us made several 30-plus foot jumps and watched Sobczak stick a couple perfect-point landings, we made our way up the trail to reconvene with the group – only to find them parked at yet another area to launch off the top of a small plateau.
Any trip West involves a common goal: the quest for deep, untracked powder.
For the first four days of our trip, we battled with flat light and poor visibility with frequent squalls. Like many Togwotee visitors experience, we had to clean our machines of a few inches of fresh snow each morning.
But that meant conditions were improving steadily while we were there. With each passing day the powder was getting deeper, and despite the popularity of Togwotee, we had no trouble finding untracked meadows, climbs and other play areas.
Our final two ride days at Togwotee, in addition to having 20 inches of fresh, untracked snow, were under clear “bluebird” skies, as backcountry riders call it.
I am fortunate with my snowmobile travel, covering lots of ground and numerous locations each year. During the Great Escape, it was the best powder riding I’ve had in years.
The conditions spawned other goals. We didn’t want to let Cook go home without first carving some powder turns, so we launched Mission Carving. Brummond was the leader, taking Cook under his wing and showing him how to stand and how to counter steer. With millions of acres of terrain accessible for practice, there isn’t a better location to hone powder riding skills. Unanimously, Cook was the most improved rider on the Great Escape tour.
There’s nothing like a snowmobile vacation that doubles as an escape from everyday responsibility.
Our final ride day was a relaxing trail excursion to the Granite Hot Springs near Alpine, Wyoming. Among the reasons for the relaxation mode was our smaller crew. It was Dave Everett, Cook and I. Our small crew meant we avoided rental charges, using three of Everett’s Arctic Cat touring sleds and Decker’s Renegade.
I enjoyed the smooth, quiet, steady drone of the 660 Turbo Touring LE for the day, content with taking in the sights. Along the route were magnificent views as the trail wound its way along Granite Creek, surrounded by towering bluffs. During one of our stops, the sound of yelping dogs grew louder and closer. Before long, a dog sled team rounded a corner of the trail, the musher driving on.
The hot springs themselves were a respite. After days of exhausting, physical mountain riding, the natural waters were a soothing, medicinal, warm bath. The spring trickled into the pool like a small pond fountain, the neighboring vegetation under a blanket of heavy snow. It was tranquility defined, and fitting for the Great Escape tagline. If that’s the escape we were after, we all left with Mission Accomplished.