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High Country Exploring: Ride Snowbird Utah’s wild beauty

November 16, 2010
Michelle and Kurt Winner
Michelle and Kurt Winner
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Just twenty minutes out of Salt Lake City and you can head into the mountains. It’s a refreshing change from the seemingly endless sprawl of strip malls and fast food joints the Olympics ushered in along the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains. And for this country girl, it’s imperative to my sanity to get away from the relentless suburbs after a few hours and into the wild.

Up Little Cottonwood Canyon and through the Wasatch National Forest, you can take a beautiful drive along Little Cottonwood Creek to Snowbird Ski area in summer. In late July the wildflowers are at peak bloom and the air is slightly cool, offering an escape from the stifling city stillness below. A favorite spot for outdoor family fun is High Country Exploring (877) 577-7877 www.highcountryexploring.com operating at Snowbird Ski Resort‘s Activity Center (801) 933-2147. Offering Wildflower tours (by Polaris), Li’l Buckaroo camps for kids, Dutch Oven cooking classes, Polaris Ranger Tours, ATV tours and Guided Horseback tours, they are the premier exploring and backcountry tour company for year-round fun.

I visited in Summer. We rode the Snowbird Tram up to Hidden Peak (11,00 feet) and
transferred to a four-man Polaris for the switchback ride down into Mineral Basin and the horse camp with our wranglers Gina and Sadie. Gina and Sadie point out the mountaintops and wildflowers as we drive down. At each turn a new vista opens to appreciate the endless blue sky and mountain ridges soon to be covered in snow come winter. They tell us that the horses are brought up from ranches below the camp and given a chance to acclimate. They spend the summer up at the camp, a wrangler staying with them each night nearby in the shelter. At summer’s end, they run them down the backside of the mountain and home to the ranches.

We also had time to chat with owner of High County Exploring, P.J. Clayton, who along with her two partners, Jonette Pantos and Helen Crosby, bring a wealth of practical farm and horse experience to their three-year-old company. But P.J. has a special connection to the mountain. As she explains, “My grandfather was a mountain man. He trapped this area and my family always enjoyed the outdoors. I have had horses all of my life.”

In a fortuitous time zone, Snowbird is an east coast inhabitant’s dream. P.J. motions to the blue sky and the sunny mountain tops as we sit in the shade of a tall fir. “My office! Someone can get on a plane in New York (in the morning),” she says, “and be on the slopes by the afternoon.”

As P.J. goes on to say, “Snowbird gets to you. People keep coming back year after year.” And Jonette, Helen, P.J. and staff are happy to share their mountain with visitors. Indeed, people flock to Snowbird. Just looking around I saw tourists from Japan, China, Germany and the Baltic. P.J. says that their mission is to show people from all over the world their fabulous part of the planet.

The diversification of experiences available here is also a big draw. Kids love the Li’l
Buckaroo Camp where they learn horse safety and care. Cooks and campers enjoy the Dutch oven cooking class creating savory and sweet recipes with the chef and taking home the recipes. There is a Ranger tour for the physically challenged, the activity center’s fishing pond, volleyball, fly fishing, guided hikes, mountain bike rentals, all day activity pass with bungee, zip ride, ropes course, and a slide. The adventurous and the equestrians enjoy the backcountry tours and rides. You may also customize your experience and try several. Just make arrangements with High Country in advance.

Come winter, P.J. switches into winter gear and operates Summit Snowmobiling at Snowbird. Custom treks and guiding available, too. www.summitsnowmobiling.com
Our summer horseback ride was exquisite, all that anyone would want: breathtaking scenery, a carpet of wildflowers, wide open spaces, waterfalls, photo opportunity, small groups, friendly experienced guide, well cared for and responsive horses, and that gratified feeling after it was over. This is a must- do when in Utah. Tell Gina and P.J. that Michelle at Ride sent you!


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