With more than 2,000 miles of groomed snowmobiling trails and millions of acres of back country powder, Wyoming offers an unparalleled winter recreation experience that includes the elusive feel of exploring undiscovered country.
But more and more snowmobilers are discovering Wyoming.
Out-of-state snowmobiling permits rose 38%, according to a 2020-21 report from the University of Wyoming and Department of Agricultural Economics as compared to its previous report for the 2011-12 season.
Registered residential snowmobiles, meanwhile, dropped 13% for the same period.
Undiscovered No More
“Wyoming has definitely been discovered,” Taylor Jones told Cowboy State Daily.
Jones is an avid snowmobiler and a past present for the Wyoming State Snowmobile Association, which also made him Wyoming’s representative for the Western Chapter of Snowmobile Association, American Council of Snowmachines and the International Snowmobile Council.
In those roles, Taylor had many opportunities to travel throughout the nation and Canada, and he talked to many people about snowmobiling in Wyoming.
“I ended up speaking with a lot of people from the Midwest in particular,” he said. “East Coast some, West Coast some, but in particular the Midwest.”
Surging Midwest Interest
Minnesota now accounts for 27.8% of Wyoming’s snowmobile tourism, followed by, in order, Montana, Colorado, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Idaho, Utah, Nebraska, Illinois and Michigan.
But Taylor believes the Midwest is catching up.
“What has happened,” Taylor said, “is with the improvement in the equipment and snowmachines, people can go farther into the mountains than ever before. And so, more and more people have become attracted to that.”
People living in the Midwest don’t get many chances to do any kind of mountain riding, Taylor pointed out.
“So, they actually buy mountain snowmachines in the Midwest so that they can ride out here,” he said. “We’re seeing a big influx of folks from the Midwest and have been for quite a few years.”
Capitalizing On Location
Dayton Gooder, a snowmobile guide for Albany Lodge located in the Snowy Range, agreed that he is seeing more and more people coming in from the Midwest.
He’s also seen a steady climb in the overall number of out-of-state snowmobilers at the lodge, estimating an increase of around 20% annually over the past five years.
The Snowy Range is Wyoming’s second most popular place for snowmobilers with 25% of all snowmobiling, but it’s not far behind the Continental Divide, which captured 29%.
The other two locations that see significant snowmobile traffic include the Wyoming Range with 16.6% and the Big Horn Mountains with 15.5%.
Wyoming’s The Whole Package
One of the trends that may be helping drive up the Cowboy State’s snowmobiling tourism, now worth an estimated $193.8 million annually, is that a number of other states have begun closing access to motorized backcountry riding.
“People go where there is access,” Taylor said. “We have access in Wyoming, where places like California and Nevada and (states) like that, the access has been shut down to motorized travel.”
Wyoming also offers an unparalleled backcountry experience in multiple locations around the state, including Yellowstone, Togwotee and the Snowy Range.
“Just the beauty of it, I mean, the farther back into the hills it just seems like the prettier it is,” Taylor said. “And so it’s the terrain, it’s the enjoyment of the riding, the better snow, the vistas.
“You know, it’s just the whole back country experience is exceptional in Wyoming.”
A Growing Reputation
One of the ways word about Wyoming’s snowmobiling is getting out is an event called Hay Days in Minnesota, which is a large swap meet that regularly attracts tens of thousands of visitors annually.
Taylor has been among participants, as has Gooder, who said an annual trip to the event is all part of the Lodge’s marketing plan. That plan also includes educational fliers for tourists to teach them to snowmobile responsibly in Wyoming.
“We have our advantages here (in the Snowy Range),” Gooder said. “Because there are a lot of places (snowmobilers) could choose, but we’re kind of that first big mountain range you hit coming from the east.”
The Snowy Range also has some of the best snow in the country, Gooder said, thanks to its elevation, which pushes 12,000 feet in some places.
From there, it’s a matter of making sure visitors enjoy their stay, and leave happy, so they’ll tell their friends.
“I know, everyone probably says that, but for us, we get a lot of reoccurring customers,” Gooder said. “Making sure they have a good experience while they’re out here is key for us.”
Consistent Snow Helps Too
The high elevation also helps, Gooder acknowledges.
“The higher you get, the more consistent your snowpack is,” he said. “Our snowpack is always really consistent. Riders are able to come out, you know, plan vacation months in advance and they’re able to rely on having good snow. We average roughly 350 to 400 inches of snow a year up here.”
The Snowy Range also has one of the largest grooming contracts in the state, Gooder added, which is another key reason the destination is attractive to so many snowmobilers.
“I think we have the biggest rental fleet of sleds,” Gooder said. “We’re actually one of the biggest Polaris Adventure Outfitters in the country, which is just based on your fleet’s size for rentals. So, we have enough customer demand for that many rentals.”