Family Snowmobiling - My Family Travels

If your family is feeling adventurous, our FTF expert suggests you try snowmobiling, available from the winter wonderland of Maine to the vast reaches of Wyoming.

If you go out snowmobiling in January, you may just catch sight of a pair of bull moose antlers, recently shed by a buck grooming a new pair for spring. That’s more likely than spotting the moose itself, who will disappear at the dull roar of Harley engines.

The grating whir is a real drawback to this mode of transport, but I, champion of the environment and once horrified at the thought of promoting such a ‘macho’ sport, adored the day our family snowmobiled through the Wyoming’s Gros Ventre National Forest.

A guide and tutor as charming with kids as Francois Corrand of Wyoming’s Goosewing Ranch is also expert at calming a mother’s fears. I sat silently as he loaded my 45-pound son behind me onto a throbbing 600cc machine for a romping cross-country expedition. Thrust, power, acceleration — not words usually associated with family activities. Yet, from the moment you don a poofy black snowsuit and marshmallow boots, tuck loose strands into a black crash helmet, and approach the glistening ebony and chrome machines, it’s pure rush.

Family Snowmobiling Out West

Hoping to recreate the unforgettable day I’d had 20 years before on a snowcoach tour of Yellowstone, I had contacted Flagg Ranch (800/443-2311, 307/543-2861), the only outfitter at Yellowstone’s south gate. The very young receptionist explained that the Snowcoach of my youth, a souped-up Canadian school bus, had been replaced by minivans wrapped in crawler tracks which still made very bumpy, interpretive ‘bus’ tours of the park.

Today, she added, anyone under 80 usually spends the night at one of Flagg’s new log cabins on the banks of the Snake River to recover from a full-day snowmobile tour to Old Faithful. “We find kids above 4 get restless on the snowcoach, but all ages love the excitement of driving a snowobile.”

I called Jackson Hole’s respected snowmobile operator, Goosewing Ranch (307/733-5251, 888/733-5251) and told them I’d like to share the great outdoors with my family. “Yellowstone is so well known but it’s one of the worst trips to offer families,” this father of three confessed. “It’s crowded, a very long day, and the focus is on getting to Old Faithful, where there’s not much more than geysers and hotpots.”

He urged me to consider the tour to Gros Ventre, only a 45-minute drive from Jackson, where families could spot wildlife, powder hounds could traverse ungroomed trails, and extreme riders could rely on common sense, not park rangers, to set the driving rules.  I was sold.

After suiting up at his downtown shop, our minivan followed a flatbed truck loaded with snowmobiles to the trail head. My husband took our young son as his passenger and I mounted my own electric steed. Only licensed drivers over 15-years of age may operate their own snowmobiles, but Francois acknowledged that so many families from Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Great Lakes region came to Jackson Hole with skilled child-drivers, that he allowed experienced 12-year-olds to ride out on his property.

What an adventure! Second only to the to the exhilaration of getting there, is the restored Goosewing Guest Ranch, a place for gourmet cuisine, a little billiards, and some hot chocolate by the stone fireplace.  Leafing through his library, admiring engravings of Billy the Kid and other famous coboys who’d passed through, was one of the trip’s favorite memories.

Snowmobiling in Eastern Mountains

Spending a day snowmobiling as a family is equally popular, though more restrictive, at many Eastern ski and snow resorts. In New Hampshire visit the New Hampshire Snowmobile Association), home of the Snowmobile Museum (603/648-2304) in Concord. The casual, family-friendly Indian Head Resort (603/745-8414) in Lincoln sends guests out to the White Mountains’ trails  for recreation.

Snowmolbing is a great way to take advantage of one of Maine’s best-known products – snow – to explore glistening spruce and pine forests, fields and frozen lakes, while having the ride of your life. The Northern Outdoors Resort (800/765-7238; 207/663-4466), located in western Maine’s Kennebec River Valley and Appalachian Mountains, offers exciting snowmobile adventures on a 100-mile network, followed by relaxation at their comfortable wilderness resort. Join a tour guided by professional instructors, or travel independently on one or two-person Polaris sleds.

Aspiring drivers must present a valid driver’s license and be at least 18-years-old; passengers must be at least 10. (A nearby state-licensed daycare facility is available for younger children.) Trails are groomed nightly and all snowmobiles (complete with hand and foot warmers) are maintained by an in-house mechanic.

After dinner at the Northern Outdoors lodge restaurant, spend evenings in front of a huge, cozy stone fireplace, play pool or air hockey, or soak in the outdoor hottub. Accommodations range from comfortable Lodge Rooms to private Log Cabins.

Upstate New York is another snowmobiler’s haven. Families will especially enjoy the charming Big Moose Inn (315/357-2042) on Big Moose Lake, outside Eagle Bay, where little ones can snuggle up to the stuffed moose collection while more adventurous family members head out to the Adirondacks to snowmobile… or skate, sleigh ride, tube, snowshoe, cross country ski, ice boat or otherwise enjoy the snow.

Families, your time in the snow has finally come.

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