Happy (Winter) Trails in Leadville, Part One
Wide. Open. Spaces. There are still some left in Colorado. And there’s plenty of them to be found in Leadville Today. After all, one of the things Lake County proudly touts, is that 75% of its land is open space and accessible to the public.
Of course, there is a certain irony to that fact when a majority of those trails are situated at or above 10,200 feet and can be covered in snow most of the year. But for outdoor recreationists who love to play in the winter, these snow-laden pathways are pure heaven. Add to that all of the fresh snow that was ushered in with the New Year, and Lake County is seeing creating some of the best early January conditions in recent years. Residents and visitors are wasting no time in firing up those new Christmas toys or hopping on the saddle of their first fat bike and hitting the winter trails.
To that end, Leadville Today is going to unlock some of those hidden treasures with its new series: Happy (Winter) Trails. Part One opens with the official Leadville Winter Trails program. Through local grooming efforts from the High Riders Snowmobile Club (HRSC) many of the high alpine recreational trails surrounding America’s highest city have been made more accessible to ALL users. So it’s time to catch up with the local snowmobile club and get an update on the trails program, and other club news. So first, HRSC President Bob Hartzell wanted to remind readers that the snowmobile club is also actively soliciting new members.
“We plan to sponsor some club activities including a few rides and some riding instruction for novice riders this winter season,” stated Hartzell. So for those sledders interested in becoming involved, or if you’re are a snowmobile enthusiast looking to share your knowledge and experience, then plan to attend the group’s Holiday Banquet at Quincy’s Restaurant this Saturday, Jan. 5, at 6:30 p.m. All current members of the High Riders Snowmobile Club will eat free. And if you want to join, bring your $18 club dues and you’ll get a free steak dinner on January 5. Readers can also contact Bob Hartzell via email at email@example.com for more details or winter trail users who are appreciative of the club’s grooming efforts, may send your tax-deductible donation to High Riders Snowmobile Club, 1875 Four Seasons Boulevard, Leadville CO 80461.
Wide. Open. Spaces.
While Leadville may have gained an international reputation with its summer racing trails, for year-round residents winter has always held its secret spots and passageways. Besides landscape that looks one way with dirt at your feet can seem like a completely different planet with three feet of snow in its place. Different vistas open up and rock formations take on new shapes when Old Man Winter sets up in America’s highest city.
For decades, the High Riders Snowmobile Club (HRSC) has helped to craft and showcase some of those more polar points of interest. Founded in 1983, the club was primarily an outdoor recreation and social group of snowmobile enthusiasts. However, over the last dozen years, HRSC has evolved into an organization with its primary focus on grooming miles of multi-use winter trails. These recreation areas are used by a wide variety of winter athletes from skiers and skinny-ski skaters, to snowmobilers and fat tire riders. Even those out taking the dog for a walk enjoy the high mountain trails without the risk of fence-posting through the deep snow! And so far, everyone seems to be co-existing peacefully.
Today, the HRSC maintains 50 miles of trails between Leadville’s East Side Historic Mining District and Turquoise Lake area, located west of Leadville. Since the early 1980s, the snowmobile club has groomed the trails around Turquoise Lake, one of the most heavily used snowmobile areas in the county. Their grooming maintenance agreement reaches out to the west to Turquoise Lake, including the Boustead Tunnel, St. Kevins, and up towards Hagerman Pass. This year, their routes will also include the Belle of Colorado and Printer Boy campgrounds for easy access.
Then about five years ago the Lake County Commissioners gave the club permission to groom unplowed county roads through Leadville’s eastside mining district, where the other half of snow-laden trails can be found. Until this program began, venturing east during Leadville’s harsh and cold winters was only recommended for the most skilled backcountry athletes. After all, conditions can change quickly in the untamed backcountry and blowing snow can change the familiarity of a trail within minutes.
But today, the HRSC groomer picks up the task from where the Lake County plow crews’ route ends at the top of East 5th Street (County Road 1) and East 7th Street (County Road 3), and continues trail maintenance through Adelaide Park, Stumptown, up to the top of Mosquito Pass, over past the Hopemore Mine and on through to the “overlook.” The views are simply unmatched in every direction.
The club has two groomers, two Bully Piston 100 snowcats and two days when they hit the trails: Mondays and Fridays. In essence, the club smooths things out right before the heavy weekend traffic and right after it. In addition, the grooming crew, which also includes a few backup pilots will also take charge of designated areas to keep the trails open to users after significant snow storms.
While their early years of trail maintenance saw some bigger, hand-me-down groomers, today, the HRSC boasts a couple of smaller PistenBully 100s that allow access to some tighter connections, something unlikely with the bigger snowcat models. The funding for the groomer’s operating costs comes primarily from Colorado Trails. This state trails program uses money from snowmobile registration fees, redistributing it to snowmobile clubs for developing, maintaining, and grooming multi-use trails.
In addition, the snowmobile club secures funding from Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Recreational Trail Program. These are federal funds generated from the fuel tax that off-road vehicles pay when gassing up. These monies, in turn, are rebated back to the state. Based on usage, Colorado then distributes the revenue to programs, like the one HRSC has in place for Leadville Winter Trails.
While the maintenance and grooming come from the state’s trail programs, the grooming machines’ initial investments came together through local funding from GOCO funds, Colorado State Trails, the Climax’s Community Investment Fund and the Leadville Trail 100 Legacy Foundation.
In recent years, the snowmobile club’s efforts have also been focused on mapping and signage. As any backcountry user will tell you, landscape and geographical points of reference can change quickly when you add a couple feet of snow and blowing wind. So, creating a map, and on-trail signs to let people know where to go, was essential from a safety perspective.
Winter Trail information kiosks have been established at pivotal trailheads, which provide a large reference map to the area, as well as a detailed topographical map of the district that users are encouraged to take with them.
So there you have it, Part One in the Leadville Today Happy (Winter) Trails series. Stay tuned for upcoming segments which will direct you to some of the best places to strap on those snowshoes, skis or snow boots and get outside for some wintertime fun!
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Leadville Loppet Marks Sweet 16 on February 16
For athletes looking to put some extra purpose in your winter outings, why not sign up for this year’s Leadville Loppet? This year, the event will be held on Saturday, Feb. 16 and offers a variety of competition levels from the more serious skier to the family-friendly shorter races for the kids and novice Nordic-ers.
The race course starts and ends at the base of Dutch Henri Hill, located off of Hwy 24 South in Leadville. From there skiers glide through a rolling, forested network of trails, leading racers on to the MBT, where climbs and descends await. The tracks follow along abandoned rail grades left behind from Leadville’s mining era, offering a passing history lesson to the skinny skiers. It’s a one-of-a-kind course!
Started in 2003, this high-altitude Nordic ski race serves as the annual fundraiser for Leadville’s historic Mineral Belt Trail (MBT). The Loppet has also been accepted as an American Birkebeiner qualifier! Skiers will be able to utilize results from either the 22 or 44 km race for improving their wave placement for the Birkie or Korte. More details on that can be found HERE.
Registration is currently open online for classic and freestyle 44K, 22K, & 10K distances, plus a 5K and 1K fun race, where costumes are encouraged! Online registration will close the night before the race, Feb. 15 at 8 p.m. Visit The Leadville Loppet for details.