Category Archives: Adventure

Travel: Day 2 Snowmobile Heaven at Togwotee Mountain Lodge

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

Travel: Day 1 Togwotee Mountain Lodge Lures Utahns

Photos by Whitney Lewis Photography

We’re in the middle of everywhere. That’s what Togwotee stands for and that’s just where we wound up- one hour from Jackson Hole, 16 miles from Grand Teton National Park and 49 miles from the South Gate of Yellowstone National Park. And in the middle of everywhere there’s winter; five hours north of dry Park City.

Utah’s early season snow is crawling in under the radar. Even the town of Jackson, Wyo., looks hurting for a white Christmas but with Togwotee’s (pronounced Toe-gah-tee) reputation for consistent December snow we didn’t hesitate to roadtrip.

The invite to attend the newly launched Learn-to-Snowmobile program was all I needed to rally. They wouldn’t host this weekend if there wasn’t enough snow, right?

This weekend, instead of skiing, I’m going to horrify my backcountry buddies. I’m going to get on a 600cc snowchewing machine and haul ass in the wilderness. Seeing as how we Parkites are shy on snow this second weekend in December, it was quite the time to pick up a new skill.

As we winded our way north out of Jackson Hole, however, I felt mildly anxious. Where was all of this snow I had heard about? The evening sky hid any white. Nothing reflected off my headlights. I kept my thoughts to myself. No need to hypothesize on what we would do at a snowmobile lodge if there was no snow. Whitney was wide-eyed and excited for an extreme adventure. Who was I to cast doubts solely based on dirt embankments at 7,000 feet. We were heading to 9,000 feet.


We pulled into the Lodge and entered another realm. It’s winter up here. The snow crunched angrily under our steps as if to say go away you don’t belong here. But the grand welcome at the front desk said otherwise. We were handed the keys to our kingdom- a stand-alone log cabin in the woods- preheated with queen beds readymade for a soft landing.


While Takoda relished the white stuff, Whitney and I settled in, unpacking groceries (the cabins have kitchenettes) and laying out our next day’s clothing layers before finally saying good night. I quickly fell silent; finding my happy place among rustic cabins embedded in rolling mounds of snow. Tomorrow the adventure begins.


This Is How We Roll: Ultimate Car Camping

No more of this stuffing three bodies into a two-man-backpacking tent crap. I was determined to overcome my awful sleeping arrangements from last weekend at the Craggin Classic into a luxury camping experience. I’m not talking “glamping” because that would involve an outside outfitter who cooks and cleans fireside for me but this would be as close as a lay person would get without a trailer.

I had less than a week to plan our excursion. Ryan’s more of a show up and drive (and pay) kind of guy while I’m the cruise director.

The first order of business was to choose a destination. Some place with rock climbing for Sage and me, biking for Ryan, and hiking for all of us. Some place with predictable weather for Labor Day, dog friendly, within a few-hours drive, and lots of land to camp on. Snow Canyon, St. George, Utah.

The Eureka tent didn’t get here in time but that didn’t deter. We rented a huge-ass tent from REI. It cost $40 for the entire weekend. I’m now hooked on tents you can stand in. Even when the rain began to pour and thunder and lightning rumbled all around last night, we were cozy and dry.

We brought a queen-sized air mattress, full-sized pillows, an electric cooler (so nothing would get soggy from melting ice), a Little Red Campfire to ensure nightly s’mores (and s’mOreos) in case we were restricted from having open fires, and a single burner stove for French toast and scrambled eggs with tomatoes. We were gonna roll in style. Chips and salsa, Angus burgers, fresh coffee, bacon! Aside from the perpetual (and annoying) thumping from the Navajo neighbors at the Baker Dam campground, we had the camping weekend I had envisioned. Last night’s freak monsoon at 2 a.m. couldn’t dampen it. The sweltering 90-degree Utah desert heat couldn’t fry it.


We climbed at Black Rocks because of the crazy abundance of toproping routes of all levels and we hiked in Snow Canyon because I was determined to check out the famous lava caves.

We headed home with a deep sense of satisfaction. To be honest, I didn’t put a lot of planning into this one. Sometimes things come together without a ton of effort. You just have to have the right mindset and, yes, access to the right tent. Thanks, REI!

The Craggin Classic Puts The Rock Back Into Rock Climbing

I climbed a rock last weekend. Many rocks actually. And so did Sage. I dragged her from her cozy bed at the crisp dawn hour of 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning for the Salt Lake Craggin Classic up Little Cottonwood Canyon. I told her, “You’re climbing this weekend”. The comatose 9 year-old wasn’t happy with me.

I have been rock climbing for years but mostly indoors. Every year, however, I’m a beginner again as I completely stop for skiing in the winter. When I happened to come across the poster for the Craggin’ Classic it was my sole motivator to get back on the rock. The two-day event offered clinics for beginning sport climbers, alpine mountaineering, traditional climbing, rescue and first aid classes for all levels as well as food and community; my kind of weekend.

Craggin’ Day 1

We walked into the Peruvian Lodge at Alta to the sweet smell of grilled bacon and hashbrowns. I was sold at the make-your-own breakfast burrito station and fresh-brewed coffee. The savory curries from the Himalayan Kitchen would come later that night for dinner, after a five-hour excursion. Sage groaned a bit because the bevy of kids I promised never appeared. The kids outdoor climbing clinic was cancelled. I don’t get it. This was the perfect environment for climbing parents. Sign up everyone, drop the kids with an experienced coach to hone their skills and get them outdoors on real rock instead of colored gym holds, while you do your own thing for a few hours. Then you meet back up for dinner and camping. Super civilized. You leave your kids at an all-day rock climbing camp at Momentum, why would you NOT do this for both of you? No one could answer. Sage was one of three kids the whole weekend. I didn’t let that stop us.

After picking up shoes and harnesses from the Camp and Red Chili vendor tents, we broke into our clinic groups then loaded up my car for Big Cottonwood and the easy access Salt Lake Slips near the Dogwood campground. The Craggin Classic is part of a countrywide series of events put on by the American Alpine Club to educate and promote climbing at some of the premier destinations in the U.S. including North Conway, New Hampshire, Devil’s Rock, Wisconsin, and Salt Lake City, Utah. The AAC finds local guides and athletes to usher participants through clinics on Alpinism and Mountaineering, Trad/Multi-Pitch Climbing, and Physical Conditioning and Technique. You won’t get this kind of training in a gym.

After a short hike across the creek and playful banter, the talk turned to safety. We discussed gear, ropes, and suited up for belay lessons. Instantly I made a friend. Nancy was new to Utah and ready to discover the routes of the Wasatch Front. I had recently lost my last climbing buddy to a new boyfriend so here was yet another benie of the Classic.

While we bonded, Joey and Judy took Sage under their wing and taught her to belay. She held me on a 5.5, climbed it herself right after, then as soon as she was down, she rushed over to keeping practicing her belay…on Yasmin, her Monster High doll.

Back at Camp

Five routes and some serious hot temps later we wrapped up and headed back to basecamp (aka the Peruvian). Black Diamond sponsored our “happy hour” with vodka/punch and whiskey/lemonades that more than hit the spot. Eventually, we meandered into the basement room of the Lodge for some climbing slideshows and a raffle. We were famished by the first scoop of Basmati rice. The thumping music started shortly after dinner but we had a tent to erect and wasted limbs to revive. Ryan showed up to join us for the campout only to create one of the worst nights of sleep I can remember this year. Note to self: do not try to sleep three in a two-man tent.

yes, we had the smallest tent in the land.

Day 2

We sent Ryan packing in the morning, Sage joined the Intro to Outdoor Climbing clinic for round two (over at Dogwood this time) and I moved up the Canyon to Reservoir Ridge for Sport Leading Fundamentals. I have lead in the past but I hate it; climbing above the rope is not my cup of tea. The clinic was everything I hoped for- a refresher and confidence builder. The crew from Mountain Education and Development don’t mess around. We all lead two easy routes (5.6) but with a backup toprope system so that there would never be a time where we could fall. And the backup had a backup.

The End

I met Sage back at the Reservoir parking lot. Her ‘coach’ brought her over. She was beaming. “Mom! I did FIVE routes. Two were 5.9s!!” she exclaimed. I came home on Sunday with a renewed sense of outdoor climbing and my very own mini-climber. Getting outside on rock does that to just about anyone who doesn’t fear heights. As we headed home to Park City Sage asked if we could do the Craggin’ Classic again next year. I said sure; and maybe then there will be more kids. “I don’t care,” she said. “I just want to climb.” That’s my girl and that’s the Classic in a nutshell.

The next events in the west will be at Smith Rock in Bend, Oregon this weekend and then over Halloween in Shelf Road, Colo. There’s always room if you feel like road tripping.

Top Summertime Things to Do In Park City

Photos by Ryan Freitas

It’s hot; it’s August and you’re more than just a visitor to this vacation town of Park City, Utah. But can you really say you’re a “local”? Have you hiked or biked the Mid-Mountain Trail? Have you attended the Park Silly Sunday Market or boogied on the New Park Plaza during the Thursday night free concerts? Have you eaten breakfast at the Main Street Deli? Have you uncorked a bottle of fine wine while toasting the sunset and the Utah Symphony outside at Deer Valley Resort? Until you express yourself in all things resort-like, we reserve the right to judge.

So as the summer wanes, here’s your bucket list of things you might want to try before the snow flies and before it’s too late to be just another tourist.


Rock Climb in the Uintas

Hit White Pine Touring; grab a guidebook or, better yet, grab a guide/instructor and head to where the air is cool, clean and quiet; and where there’s a lake for the pooch to splash in. About 45 minutes east through Kamas on the Mirror Lake Highway, you’ll find the Ruth Lake pullout. Hike northwest for less than a mile until a wall, and people scaling it, comes into view. The lake itself is further along the trail but for climbers you can’t pick a better spot when it’s blazing in the valley. Snowbird instructor Mark Nakada and his friends mined the area a decade ago and the word’s gotten out. Great rock, over 100 routes of all levels and the ability to bring your four-footed friends make this and the Stone Garden (further east) a climber’s paradise.

Paddle the Mighty Weber

Weber River by inner tube or sit-on-top kayak is brought to you by Barefoot Tubing. You can also show up on Wednesday evenings for the weekly Utah Whitewater Club float. The Club usually has spare gear and room in rafts. Either way, don’t miss out on your shot at the only river worth paddling within an hour of Park City. Head out I-80 toward Cheyenne then go west on I-84 towards Ogden. The Henefer to Taggert section is about a class II+ – full of mild rapids and boulders to navigate, and nestled in the beautiful, wooded Ogden Canyon.

Mountain Bike “Canyons At Park City

After you dine on the deck of the Redpine Lodge (for one of the most scenic lunches in Park City), learn to ride like a pro with Canyons’ bike clinics. Sign up for a group or private clinics for the bike park and their trails, as well as custom mountain bike tours. They have more than 20 miles of cross-country trails, an expert bike park and a new beginner skills progression park. BTW, you can also ride at Deer Valley Resort (50 miles of trails) and Park City Mountain.

Slide the Slopes

The Alpine Slide at Park City Mountain Resort is a guaranteed thrill ride. But it ain’t the safety conscious Disneyland  (or even Lagoon) version. This summertime toboggan-on-wheels can be hazardous to your health if you forget the brakes so sign a waiver and ride at your own risk. Many a hardy athlete has launched off the track. After the aches, bruises and road rash subside, you’ll be anxiously drooling for your next visit. Looking for something safer? Try the Alpine Coaster. The gravity fed track carries you down to the base at speeds up to 30 mph. Hint: double up. The heavier the car, the faster you go.

Fly High at the Utah Oly Park

Adventure Courses at the Utah Olympic Park will bust through your test limits, and build skills that will carry on into the winter whether you weave through the ropes course, navigate a bobsled (on wheels), ride the world’s steepest zipline, or take a half-day freestyle clinic to learn to jump (into a pool). You can also just sit and watch others go nuts. The facility, the Alf Engen Ski Museum and international athletes training take place daily. (435) 658-4200

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