UINTA MOUNTAINS, Utah Doug Page takes an extended snowmobile trip with friends each year to see what other states have to offer. During the drive home, he always has the same thought.
''I wonder why we drive for six hours to ride when we have some of the best snowmobile riding in the Intermountain West right here,'' said Page, president of the Utah Snowmobile Association. ''The powder here is nice, dry and fluffy, not that concrete other states have.''
With more than 1,200 miles of snowmobile trails across the state and 11 complexes from Cedar Mountain in the south to Hardware Ranch in the north Utah's snowmobilers have ample places to ride the white wave.
Eric Stucki, off-highway vehicle specialist for Utah State Parks, says the Mirror Lake/Mill Hollow area in the Uinta Mountains is the state's most visited complex, followed by the area around Strawberry Res-ervoir.
There are more than 30,000 registered snowmobiles in Utah and state officials groom trails regularly to keep them safe and fun. Low snow totals required only 12,000 miles be groomed last winter, but more than 21,000 miles were groomed the previous year.
To help snowmobilers make the most out of Utah's terrain, lodges began popping up near popular snowmobile destinations about 10 years ago. Before that, most snowmobilers who wanted to spend a weekend riding powder had to take a motor home and park it on the side of the road.
Things have changed. Today, lodges with day spas, hot tubs and restaurants await riders weary from days that might include a 150-mile journey.
''People play hard on their machines and they like to have a place where they can relax after a long day without having to load up their snowmobiles and make the drive home,'' said Elizabeth Lehner of the Daniels Summit Lodge on Highway 40 south of Heber City and near Strawberry Reservoir. ''Having a lodge close to the trails makes it easy to spend a weekend with the family snowmobiling, skiing or snowshoeing.''
Daniels Summit Lodge frequently fills its 48 rooms on winter weekends, but Utah's snowmobiling wonderland remains a secret locals are not willing to share.
''Maybe as much as 20 percent of our guests are from out of state,'' Lehner said. ''It is apparently still just a Utah thing to come here to snowmobile.''
Bear River Lodge owner Roger Eggett says recent visitors to his cabins 30 miles south of Evanston, Wyo., in Utah's Uinta Mountains hailed from such locales as Kentucky, Georgia and Florida. But about 80 percent of his customers are still Utahns.
''We have really tried to focus our marketing to get people who want to enjoy the snow to come and stay here. When I first took over (seven years ago) 99.9 percent of our business came from the Wasatch Front,'' Eggett said.
Most of the people bound for the Bear River Lodge drive to Evanston and take Highway 150 to the end of the paved road where Eggett is waiting with warm cabins and powerful snowmobiles. He looks forward to a day when snowmobilers will be able to ride between all of the state's snowmobile complexes without having to trailer their machines.
''We are linked by trail to Daniels Summit Lodge so people can ride between the three and stay at a different place each night. That could be quite an experience,'' he said.
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