Northwest Colorado Snowmobile Club finally hits the trail
“This is our only wintertime activity. We’re not a ski town, we’re a snowmobile town.”
— Joe Tonso, Northwest Colorado Snowmobile Club grooming chairman
For Joe Tonso, 71, snowmobiling isn’t simply about the power of the machine, the speed, or the exhilaration of the ride, though the sport does offer those perks.
A Glenwood Springs native, Tonso moved to Craig in 1969 with his wife, Jenn, to teach math and computer science at Moffat County High School.
Avid outdoor enthusiasts, Tonso and Jenn spent much of their free time hunting and fishing.
Then, in the late 1960s, a friend who owned a Ski-Doo dealership in Glenwood Springs convinced the couple to take out two of his sleds for the day.
How the Tonsos looked at outdoor recreation was never the same.
“My wife and I got on the machines and really enjoyed getting up into places where we hunted during the fall in the Glenwood Flat Tops,” Tonso said. “We really thought that was so neat.
“We were hunters and fishermen, and decided to take it one more step by going to see the country we loved while it had snow on it.”
Now retired, Tonso serves as grooming chairman of the Northwest Colorado Snowmobile Club in Craig and is actively involved in the Colorado Snowmobile Association.
For him, snowmobiling is about enjoying the outdoors with his wife, as well as close friend, Bill Spicer, 77.
Spicer, an Illinois native, NOWECOS board member, and also a retired MCHS school teacher, moved to Craig in 1962.
Though Spicer credits the Tonsos for introducing him to the sport in 1970, it was his agriculture and Future Farmers of America students that cemented his passion for snowmobiling.
“For many of the kids I taught, if dad wasn’t going, they weren’t going,” Spicer said. “So one day they asked if I would go with them.”
Spicer didn’t own a sled at the time, but knew a guy in town who rented them.
“I never thought I would buy one, but after riding with the kids I went out and bought my first of 14 sleds in the fall of 1971,” he said.
Since then, Spicer estimates he’s logged approximately 60,000 miles on a snowmobile.
But the 2012 season may upset Spicer’s average. It wasn’t until recently that Mother Nature decided to cooperate.
“It’s been a really bad year for snowmobiling,” Tonso said. “Like everybody else we need the snow, not just for snowmobiling. We kind of need the snow for water next year.”
Since the club’s inception in the fall of 1986, this was the first season the club did not have its 107 miles of groomed trails and open parks located 11 miles north of Craig marked by the first of December.
“We just marked our trails this past weekend,” Tonso said. “The reason being, we didn’t have enough snow to hold our posts up.”
Winter couldn’t stay away forever and patient riders were rewarded in a big way when storms began rolling into the region, dropping close to eight feet in the last few weeks.
“It’s all set up,” Tonso said. “They (NOWECOS members) tell me we got another foot at least of that wet, heavy powder on Tuesday, so the snowmobiling right now is excellent because of that.”
Although the snow of late is prime for snowmobiling, previous storms brought dry “sugar snow” to the area, which doesn’t set as well as the heavier kind.
Tonso likened sugar snow to ball bearings. When you have dry snow as a base, and then receive periods of heavier snow on top, the snowpack can become unstable and slide.
For the first time in 25 years, Tonso said the club posted avalanche warning signs on its trails.
“We just are not faced with those kinds of conditions, normally, in this northwestern part of Colorado,” Tonso said. “But, as long as you don’t get the bottom (layers) moving, it is great snowmobiling.
“I mean, you can play in the trees and go wherever you want, but you do need to be careful on 30-degree slopes or greater.”
Although riding with friends and family was the initial intention of the club, members do much more than play.
“There’s a lot of good that comes out of it,” Spicer said of the club. “Like money for high school scholarships”
Every year, NOWECOS participates in the CSA’s annual snowmobile raffle, which provides scholarship money for 27 of the state organization’s 36 member clubs.
The raffle begins each year after Halloween and runs until about a week before Christmas.
In 2011, 6,500 total tickets were sold by the 27 participating organizations. More than one-sixth of that total was sold locally by NOWECOS members, which brought more than $1,700 back to the community.
NOWECOS also typically hosts a local fundraiser, a Poker Run, at Freeman Trailhead. The event combines snowmobiling with a five card draw tournament.
The run attracts more than 50 participants from all over the state and raises an additional $1,000 for the club’s college scholarship program.
But the event, hosted each year in January, was cancelled this year due to a lack of snow.
Even so, NOWECOS has pledged to award two $1,000 college scholarships this year.
NOWECOS includes 78 members, but Tonso said the club is always looking for people, particularly young folks, to join their ranks.
“This is our only wintertime activity,” Tonso said. “We’re not a ski town, we’re a snowmobile town.”
The club rides together the second Saturday and fourth Sunday of each month, and departs from Craig Middle School at 9 a.m.
For more information on dues, trails and events, visit NOWECOS online at www.northwestcoloradosnowmobileclub.org.