Jim Wolf of Boise is a “non-motorized guy” who never had ridden a snowmobile until he went on one of Brundage Mountain Resort’s new tours last week.
He has owned a cabin in McCall for several years but wouldn’t have tried snowmobiling without a guided tour, he said. Four hours later, he still wasn’t sure about touring the backcountry by machine instead of foot but he enjoyed the experience.
“It was very well done,” he said. “The guides were very competent and concerned and involved and explained things.”
Brundage and CM Backcountry Rentals & Adventures of McCall began offering snowmobile tours this winter through long-desired permits from the Payette National Forest.
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Before, tourists and novices had to rent a snowmobile and find their way through miles of backcountry on their own.
“We are getting excellent feedback,” said Jake White, the supervisor of Brundage’s snowmobile program. “We’re taking people from all over the country. We’ve really tried to cater to what people’s interests are. We try to make everybody comfortable with the sled before we put them in a different element.”
I joined Wolf and his two nephews from Texas on their four-hour, half-day tour that started outside the Brundage lodge. Two guides accompanied us, with one leading the way and the other trailing to make sure nobody got lost — an insurance policy that paid off when one member of our group missed a turn.
For Wolf, the trip was a gift from his family for hosting them on their Idaho visit. His nephews had snowmobiled before in Colorado and New Mexico.
The nephews wanted a tour on the aggressive side. Two other guests who wanted a mellow version set out separately with a third guide.
“We have a lot of options,” White said. “The road forks four different ways. It is based on the group. If one group wants to see a lot of the backcountry and put on some more miles,then we’ll take them probably 50-60 miles of trail riding and stop at some meadows and play areas along the way.”
Our trip covered 49 miles. Stops included Goose Lake, Granite Lake and Fisher Creek Saddle, the dividing line between land that drains to the Payette and Salmon rivers.
Reaching the Fisher Creek saddle required riding up a road that might have been a problem for those squeamish about heights, then winding off-trail through some trees at a deliberate pace.
The ride back to Brundage provided some of the most stunning views, and for a short period a dizzying drop-off on the edge of the wide trail.
“It’s really a lot of country back there,” White said. “... (Guests) should expect beautiful scenery and something a lot of them have not seen before, which is getting into the backcountry away from all the people and just seeing some country you don’t typically get to see from the highways in Idaho — big views, mountain tops, lakes. We kind of throw a little bit of everything in there.”
Including play time.
Much of the tour was spent cruising at 30-40 miles an hour, and a little faster at times, but White led us into several open meadows to ride through the powder.
A couple of times, we stopped in meadows, he pointed out areas to avoid (he calls the boundaries “handrails”) and then we were free to zip around and explore.
“That just adds a whole other element to the guided trip,” White said. “Most people think: ‘We have a guided trip. We’re going to go 10 miles an hour.’ And some of our trips end up going that way. But we want the full experience. We want you to feel a little bit of powder, feel how the sled reacts a little different in some deeper snow and give you a chance to get out on your own instead of having to follow behind that sled the whole time. We’ll set a base area, set our handrails in that meadow and let people get out and feel how the sled works and feel like they’re riding on their own for a little bit.”
Aaron Workman of Denton, Texas, who is one of Wolf’s nephews, has been on several snowmobile trips in other states — including some of the 10 mph variety.
He said the Brundage experience “was probably the best snowmobile tour I’ve been on.”
“It was a lot of fun,” Workman said. “On this one, we were going much faster because it was wider trails, I guess. ... I give this one a nine out of 10.”
Guided tours in McCall
- Brundage Mountain Resort offers a day trip (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) for $295, including snowmobile, gear and lunch. A half-day tour (noon-4 p.m.) is $235.
- CM Backcountry Rentals & Adventures offers day trips on trails (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) for $300, including snowmobile and gear. Beginner clinics going off-trail cost $250 per day, not including snowmobile ($200 extra). Advanced clinics cost $350 per day, plus snowmobile. Avalanche gear is required for the clinics.
- Both companies also rent snowmobiles for self-guided excursions.