Travel: Day 2 Snowmobile Heaven at Togwotee Mountain Lodge

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Photos by Whitney Lewis Photography

Our guides warned us that backcountry snowmobiling is not a walk in the park. I inwardly wondered how hard it could really be sitting on an ultra-plush, cushioned seat for three hours as we zoomed along the wooded trails of Togwotee Lodge’s Teton-Bridger National Forest ; maybe my thumb would feel the strain from holding down the throttle?

But what they do at Togwotee Mountain Lodge is not the nose-to-rear guided riding you do at most resort outfitters. This is off-piste, powder plunging and exploration in a 2.5 million-acre spread. The reason people return annually to Togwotee is because there’s no other place in North America that can provide the gear, the guides, the lodging, the food, the bar, hot tub and the terrain for serious snowmobiling all in one spot. That’s about 9000 riders a season. There are other locations that do a decent job (Daniel Summit and Bear River Lodge in Utah to name a couple) but none on this scale. TML has 54 individual, pet friendly cabins, six family bunkrooms, a 28-room lodge, 25-30 guides and a fleet of top of the line sleds from Skidoo and Polaris. “Togwotee offers such diversity in terrain and snow accumulation,” said Derek Thompson, TML’s marketing director. “Everyone from beginner to expert can enjoy this prestigious area. Whether you’re looking for amazing views, miles of groomed trails or over-the-hood powder in the backcountry; Togwotee has it.”

Photo by Jill Adler

Togwotee’s Roots

The Lodge started as a family operation in 1926 and witnessed the heyday of snowmobiling in the 90s when every family had their own sleds. As the economy and optimal weather slept so did the sport; and so a generation was lost. The Lodge fell under the Aramark brand in 2008. The National Park concessionaire known for food and hospitality services, however, seems to let TML function more like a charming, family establishment rather than some cookie-cutter, corporate-run hotel and according to those who come every year, the sport is experiencing a sort of renaissance as the machines have gotten lighter, faster, more ecologically friendly and are able to take on extreme terrain like never before. Now more females, families and younger kids (13 and up) are coming for big mountain riding. “If you ride in Yellowstone it’s like riding a moped in a museum,” said Will, our TML guide. “We’re trying to separate ourselves from others. This is a ‘next level’ riding clinic, to prepare people for the backcountry.”

Photo by Jill Adler

Unsure of what that really meant, we wandered into the meeting/social hall at the Lodge ready for anything at the crack of 9:30 a.m. The pacing for this beginner program is spot on if you ask me. Even if you’re taking a course of some sort you still want to get vacation time and that means sleeping in. We packed a ton of food with plans to cook in our cabin and have an even later morning start but when we heard breakfast, happy hour and dinner were included in the package you could bet we’d be skipping the Tator Tots and bacon for the breakfast buffet with made-to-order eggs and fresh fruit and coffee to fuel up for riding.

Photo by Jill Adler

Getting Schooled

The Lodge asked beforehand about our snowmobiling experience so they could gauge the lesson plan but with relatively zero riding time in our collective group of four it was all about the basics. This was not the place to claim you are an expert and find yourself launching a 50-foot cornice. The snowmobiling season lasts through the end of March. There’s plenty of time to get to that level if you’re really into it. Today would start with a two-hour chat about safety, gear, what we need to think about “out there”. Apparently, the machines these days can ride in infinitely deep snow if you know how to handle them and with two days coming. The plan was to challenge ourselves with the terrain and techniques to get us out exploring with confidence.

Photo by Jill Adler

We talked about the snowmobiles and what they can do, the gear we should have when we get out and the fitness level we ought to achieve and the expectation of standing, not sitting, during the entire ride. After the chat, we had bison burgers in the bar and saddled up.

I was #1. Haha. We rode a groomed trail along the highway before crossing under it. It snowed lightly; not enough yet to cover up the early season twigs, dirt and rocks that peppered our lower-elevation path. But when reached a clearing, the knee-deep powder field was exactly what we needed to practice steering, turning, leaning (into the turn) and a variety of stances to help achieve a solid arc. Emily rolled her sled and we assisted in righting it. My thumb slipped off the throttle several times, sending me sideways to “kiss the hood” or into the snow. Luckily this isn’t mountain biking. I laughed hard instead of cried.

The Road Home

By the time we retreated for home I was sweating and already 10 times more confident in my maneuvering and stance. Some of my weight-shifting even felt, dare I say, second nature. We pulled into the rental shop parking only to be waved off and told the sleds were ours to hang onto until the end of the weekend! We rode straight to the cabin, grabbed the pooch to give him his own exercise in a snow-covered parking lot nearby. Not once did I feel as if I was ‘faking it,’ riding on my own.

The Lodge seemed empty this morning but by the time we rolled in for happy hour the sausage fest (as local females refer to the abundance of males) emerged. The Lodge provides everything from lessons and guided rides to unguided corporate retreats. The other group this weekend consisted of professional riders mostly from the Denver area. And they sure were happy to see a little estrogen in the bar. But that’s a different story…

Photo by Jill Adler

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One comment

  • That looks like so much fun!!! I’ve never been snowmobiling, but now I really want to give it a shot. I can’t wait till my daughter is old enough for us have adventures like this together 🙂

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