Snowmobiling in the Yakima Valley
The Yakima Valley is known for its beautiful summers, terrific and bountiful harvests of fruits and vegetables and its four seasons of outdoor activities. One sport that often gets overlooked when you think about the Yakima Valley is snowmobiling. This blog entry is targeted primarily at newer or inexperienced riders who haven't been to this area before, as many people don't understand how close snowmobiling can be in the Yakima Valley.
Snowmobile season is just around the corner, and riders are eager to get their sleds out on the trails. Avid sledders (as snowmobilers are known) know that from the Yakima Valley you are often less than an hour away from multiple trailheads that lead to literally hundreds of miles of trails. Whether you are an experienced rider or just a beginner, there is something for everyone.
From Union Gap, the closest Sno-Park is the Ahtanum Sno-Park which is just over 20 miles from the city center. From December into late spring you'll find sledders of all ages and skill levels enjoying the groomed trails and play areas of Ahtanum Meadows. There is a large sno-park at Ahtanum Meadows, actually the largest one you'll find in the region unless you head up to Cle Elum, WA. Weekends get pretty busy, so head up early if you're going on a Saturday or Sunday ride, during the week there are very few sledders out there and you'll likely spend the day riding with just you and your friends.
There are miles and miles of groomed trails and several directions for you to choose from. The trails are all adequately marked and relatively easy to follow, although it is still important to watch your route carefully and we suggest you either download a trail map from the website or pick one up at one of the ranger stations. Here are some simple tips and even a few myths that 'newbies' might appreciate about snowmobiling.
- Snowmobiling can be very cold, but often isn't as cold as one thinks. Similar to skiing actually. On a nice sunny day, you are warmer than you think, and the sleds give off more heat than you think. So, if you're passing on a chance to snowmobile just because you're afraid you'll be too cold, we suggest you talk to an experienced rider who can help outfit you with the appropriate winter clothing.
- Did you know that most sleds have handwarmers and even a thumbwarmer on the handle bars? Many people don't realize this and are surprised when they go out for the first time and someone shows them how to operate their handwarmers, they are always pleasantly surprised!
- Food is a must on any sledding adventure and people can get very creative. Sandwiches are the norm, but many riders have some sort of 'hot-dogger' which is a unit you can attach to the muffler of the sled underneath the hood and you can heat up food while you ride. It is common for riders to heat up hot dogs, burritos, pizza pockets, breakfast burritos and more while they are riding. When it is time for lunch, you open the hot dogger and you have a nice hot meal to eat. Always a fun reveal with newbies!
- Safety is number one on the trail, and you must be alert at all times. It is customary to follow normal driving methods, with traffic going staying on their respective right and left sides as you are on the trail. If you encounter riders coming in the opposite direction, you indicate with your fingers how many riders are behind you. If you are riding with a group of 4 people, and you are in the front, you hold up 3 fingers to the oncoming sleds so they know there are 3 more riders behind you. The second rider holds up 2 fingers, the third rider would hold up 1 and the fourth rider would make a fist to show there are no more riders behind them. You should also be especially cautious around corners, as riders coming in the opposite direction don't always adhere to the rules of the trail.
- It is also important to let someone who isn't sledding know where you are headed, just in case you run into some issue on the trail. Make sure you tell them which sno-park you are headed to, who else is riding, and an estimated time you'll be back. It is also not advised to ever ride alone.
- You should know your limitations while riding also. Sledding is fun, but an experienced rider can make difficult maneuvers look simple. Make sure you understand how to shift your weight, how to lean and more, definitely stay on the groomed portions of the trails until you become more experienced.
- Always ride with the buddy system. You never want to be caught alone on a sled, and it is easy to separate from a pack and end up miles away from each other before you know it. You'll be amazed how quiet it can be on the trails as well, and often times you don't hear other sleds until they're pretty close to you.
- Always wear a helmet when riding.
- Talk to the people you are riding with about the type of snow you'll be sledding on. Powder, ice, freshly groomed ... every type of snow can have a different of experience. For example, if you are riding in deep and heavy snow, it is easier to get stuck. By knowing the type of snow and the limitations it might have, you'll enjoy your day more.
- Make sure you have a sno-park pass for your vehicle or you will be fined.
Snowmobiling can be a real rush, and a day spent on the trails, in the fresh air, surrounded by beautiful views everywhere is a day you won't quickly forget. We are fortunate to have so many great areas to ride that are so close to Union Gap and the Yakima Valley. Sno-parks are located at Ahtanum Meadows and there are also multiple sno-parks on both Chinook and White Pass. So bundle up, pack your food and prepare yourself for a great day of sledding. We have a feeling you'll be quickly addicted to this wonderful sport!