Experience “The Groomer Tour”
The ski resorts and natural attractions arrayed around Colorado’s Tenmile Range have long drawn outdoor enthusiasts of every stripe to its Rocky Mountain heights. A highlight of these hotspots, the Breckenridge Nordic Center is uniquely situated between the brilliantly biodiverse Cucumber Gulch Wildlife Preserve (which is also a federally recognized Aquatic Resource of National Importance, or ARNI) and the lofty peaks of the Breckenridge Resort, with a vast trail network that gives visitors access to both incredible locales. The obvious—and of course absolutely enjoyable—way to explore the wilds of Breckenridge in the winter would be on skis or perhaps on snowshoes. If you’re a cyclist, you might even fat bike them! But say you want to take your time, to really ingest the rich, layered natural beauty that is packed into this high alpine slice of Colorado: enter, the Snowcat Adventure Tour.
The Breckenridge Nordic Center is one of only a handful of ski centers in the world that give guests the option of exploring their surroundings from the heated, plush comfort of a massive, glass-walled snow groomer. At several scheduled departure times throughout the day, guests in groups of eight or less are ushered into the so-called transport cabin, a contraption equally as awesome as the land it tours. Sitting squarely on the back of a Prinoth Husky Groomer, the cabin is equipped with two rows of four-person bench seats that face each other, one facing forward, one to the rear; on the left and right, subtly curved window-walls offer passengers panoramic views of the splendor outside.
The fact that so few other areas have gotten in on the ‘Cat Touring action is surprising, says longtime Breckenridge Nordic Director Gene Dayton. At $75 a seat, with two or three tours a day, the center is able to create revenue while laying down tracks and wide skating corduroy of the highest quality.
Initially, it was this world class grooming quality that drew Dayton to the Prinoth groomers. After seeing a competition stadium lined with two dozen parallel classic tracks that were “laid out with such laser precision… it looked like an architect designed it,” Dayton knew he had to get his hands on one of the Italian beasts.
A deal with the manufacturer made Prinoth the exclusive equipment supplier of Breckenridge Nordic for the last four years: and through all their six machines, Dayton says, they have not been disappointed. The transport cabins and the groomer tours they facilitate have been a sort of cherry on top of the Center’s deal with Prinoth. Not only do the tours bring in a steady revenue stream, they attract a whole new set of clientele. For the non-skier, or the outdoor enthusiast who can no longer explore by foot, or for the family looking for a new adventure—for really any Colorado visitor looking for a change of pace—the groomer tour is an experience like no other.
On an average Breckenridge Cat tour, the operator drives passengers out on a 90-odd minute journey (a journey which of course doubles as a 90 minute session of careful snow maintenance ) while a knowledgeable host or hostess provides insight into the area’s spectacular ecology and natural history: topics range from migratory birds and local beavers to the area’s geology and the mining industry that capitalized on it. Cruising along at a gentle 15 mph, guests have plenty of time to take in each of the marvels pointed out to them. For those worried about the tedium of so much time sitting, the tour is comfortably broken up by a well-timed stop for s’mores and hot chocolate (with a bit of schnapps, for the adults who want it) at the frontier-era warming hut. And if you’re lucky, Gene might even pull out his accordion or alpenhorn and fill the cabin with his dulcet Nordic tunes.
As an addition to their already impressive selection of outdoor activities and guided opportunities, the Groomer Tour takes Breckenridge’s exquisite terrain to another level of accessibility, and of luxury. More than being just another activity, however, the groomer tour adds a whole new attraction that visitors to Breckenridge can build their trips around. This is not to say the Colorado Nordic center’s tours are totally unique: 1,600 miles due north, in the outskirts of Toronto, the Hardwood Ski and Bike Center operates their own version of the groomer tour.
With over 70 km of gloriously varied ski trails in need of grooming, passengers on Hardwood’s 10 seat Prinoth can take in the breathtaking vistas of Lake Simcoe and the wonders of the surrounding wilderness, all while the trails get nicely corduroyed and tracked. This is the other appeal of groomer tours for the few ski centers that have adopted them: they are able to offer a unique guest experience, while at the same time they groom trails that need grooming anyway. The Snowcat tour is a brilliant operational innovation, and even if the tours don’t quite recoup the costs of the equipment, they almost certainly make it back in smiles, oohs and ahhs.
It’s too early to tell whether Breckenridge and Hardwood’s Nordic novelty will take off in the ski world. What is for certain, though, is that riding smoothly in heated comfort, taking in the snowy wonders of the wintery world from behind rounded panes of tinted glass, is an experience far different from your average ski, and well worth a try.