Salida’s Heart of Rockies Snowmobile Club got its new snowcat Saturday, and the club hopes it will make the trails it grooms along Marshall Pass better than ever before.
One advantage of the new snowcat, which was previously used by the Loveland Ski Area, is that it has a tiller on the back to help pack the snow down.
“It will work wonderfully on our trail system,” said Brad Craig, club president. “Hopefully it will make it better and last longer.”
The snowcat, a 2015 PistenBully Park Pro, came with a 14-foot-wide tiller on the back. The trails they groom, however, are a little narrower than that in spots, so the club worked with PistenBully on a workable option. Now the cat has a 12-foot, 9-inch tiller. The club has also been busy mounting a generator and toolbox on the cat and installing a communications radio.
The cat is currently in Poncha Springs at a county facility, but once it gets moved out to Marshall Pass, it will stay there. That’s why they installed a generator on the back – to help warm up the cat when temperatures drop to 1 degree.
The cat is designed for building terrain parks, and the blade has 10 different functions, but it will also work well to groom trails.
“That wasn’t the plan, it’s just how it worked out,” Craig said. “It was the best machine available.”
The snowmobile club purchased the used cat for $140,500. A $100,000 grant from Colorado Parks and Wildlife covered part of the cost. Snowmobile registration fees fund the grants. Two years ago, when not a lot of snow fell around the state, the state paid less for grooming than it typically does, so it also had some earmarked money left over.
“We didn’t groom out our contract (that year),” Craig said. “We only billed about half.”
“This was a good year for grants because of that,” said Andy Granzella, who also volunteers to groom the trails.
The club also sold its old 2005 Prinoth snowcat, which it used for 12 years, to the Buena Vista Snowmobile Club to help cover the cost. The BV club, which grooms trails on Hancock Pass, Tincup Pass and Cottonwood Pass, also received an $85,000 grant from CPW.
Craig said three different snowmobile rental shops use the Marshall Pass trail system and sometimes run 20 sleds in a group. With that much usage, Craig said they hope the new groomer will keep the trails from getting rough as quickly.
Near O’Haver Lake, lots of other groups use the trail system, like snowshoers, fat bike riders, cross-country skiers, sled dogs and more. “It’s beneficial to all of the users, if they can get along,” Granzella said. “I think they do up there,” Craig added.
Heart of the Rockies Snowmobile Club has a permit from the U.S. Forest Service to groom the trails on Marshall Pass from Nov. 15 to April 15. Granzella said the snowpack was too thin to start grooming last week, but he hoped they’d be able to start grooming the trail for various uses next week.
The club grooms 72 miles of trails, and Craig said it typically takes 12 hours to do it, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. They groom it about once a week.
For skinnier trails, they pull a 4-foot groomer behind a snowmobile. They also take care of bathrooms and cabins up there.
The grant they get from the state pays them $100 an hour, but the club members all donate their time, so the money they earn stays in the club to be used for equipment and other necessities.