A mile and a half north of Camp Hale—the sprawling flats along Highway 24 where the 10th Mountain Division trained in the ‘40s—sits a 90-acre ranch abutting the national forest. This ranch serves as the headquarters of Nova Guides, the only permitted snowmobile outfitter on Vail Pass, and provides a direct route onto the less-visited backside of the pass.
Nova runs a handful of different trips from the ranch, but its most popular excursion is the twice-daily Top of the Rockies tour. The route passes through Camp Hale, where you’ll learn about the rec hall and dining quarters that served 14,000 troops. Resolution Road then takes you up toward Machine Gun Ridge, a common 10th Mountain ski zone that might have the best view on Vail Pass. Four different mountain ranges—the Sawatch, Tenmile, Gore, and Mosquitoes—fill the panorama from 12,500 feet.
A guide can take up to eight guests, so ride times can vary, but in general you can expect to ride 30 to 50 miles in three to four hours, says Nova marketing director KT Bell. Full-day trips transit 40 to 60 miles and encompass five to six hours of riding. Many of Nova’s trips are tailored to beginners, Bell says, and primarily provide “an opportunity to get into the backcountry in a way a lot of them never have before.” Nova rents two-person snowmobiles as well as high-performance machines designed for riding in powder. Kids’ outings take place at Tigiwon Road near Minturn.
The Top of the Rockies half-day tour costs $270 (full-day tours cost $375) including lunch at the ranch, with a complimentary pickup anywhere in the Vail Valley at 8:30 a.m. or 12:30 p.m. Self-guided tours cost $150 for two hours or $220 for four hours (add an extra $30 for the high-performance snow machines). Want to experience the backcountry without the behind-the-handlebars adrenaline rush? Nova also offers snowcat sightseeing trips ($145 per person). All tours are weather and snow dependent; 719-486-2656, novaguides.com