Stranded snowmobilers return safely to Columbine

5 men missing in North Routt on Sunday return safely

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— A group of five local snowmobilers who weathered a stiff snowstorm overnight in the backcountry returned safely to the Columbine parking lot in North Routt County at 9:30 a.m. Monday, just as 20 searchers in three groups prepared to set out to look for them.

“They knew where they were, they just had trouble getting their sleds out,” of nearly 30 inches of fresh snow that had accumulated during the weekend, said Jim Linville, of Routt County Search and Rescue.

The men from Steamboat Springs and Oak Creek were reported overdue Sunday night, but they had not told family members their intended destination in the National Forest north of Hahn’s Peak.

They could not be reached by cell phone, Linville said, and an overnight search was ruled out.

“If there’s something to take away from this, let several people know where you’re going,” Linville said. “They did the right thing by getting together, building a big fire and staying warm.”

Search and Rescue officials said they were not free to release the name of the snowmobilers and the Routt County Sheriff’s Office did not file a report on the matter.

Routt County Search and Rescue spokesman Darrel Levingston told the Steamboat Today on Sunday night that the party of five men ages 25 to 33 set out from the parking lot just beyond Columbine Cabins at 9 a.m. Sunday and were expected back by 4 p.m. Search and Rescue officials spoke to spouses and relatives of the men and ascertained there were no medical issues and that the men had backcountry experience and were likely to be able to start a fire.

Levingston added that in most cases when snowmobilers are overdue, it is because one or more of their sleds have bogged down in deep snow.

“The weather up there was four times as bad as it was here” in Steamboat Springs, Levingston said. “Everyone I talked to said it was horrible up there.”

When they returned to the parking lot, the stranded men told Linville they had been riding on a ridge above the Middle Fork of the Little Snake River on Sunday and later became mired in deep snow in the drainage below.

They told Linville that they encountered 14 inches of fresh snow Sunday and estimated that another 18 inches had fallen overnight Sunday into Monday.

Linville, who was the incident commander for the search, which never launched, said his party included eight Search and Rescue members with radios bolstered by a dozen community volunteers on snowmobiles. They had been organized into three search groups just before the effort was called off.

The snowmobilers had extricated their sleds from the deep snow but had to tow one machine behind them after it ran out of gas.

— To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205 or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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