Snowmobiling tours provide adventures at Lake Tahoe

Kayla Anderson
Special to the Tribune

ZEPHYR COVE, Nev. — On a bluebird Tahoe day with snow dotting the ridgelines around the lake, a group of about 10 people on six Ski-Doo snowmobiles stand atop a mountain vista on the Tahoe Rim Trail directly across Emerald Bay.

“The air smells so good up here; like nothing I’ve ever smelled before,” says David Hayward, taking a deep inhale of the pine-scented fresh snow around him.

He and his wife Courtney are from Kansas and celebrating their 15-year anniversary away from their two young children here in Lake Tahoe. It’s the first time they’ve ever been here, and the couple spent the week snowboarding, going to the spa, and doing “every kind of outdoor thing they can” — which includes snowmobiling. David says he’s snowmobiled in Breckenridge before but it’s nothing like this.

“I’ve had the biggest smile stuck to my face for the last 10 minutes, at least,” he adds.

Everyone else in the group is equally as stoked, considering we had just traveled 10 miles or so up nicely snow-covered, packed, and groomed trails, through the trees and winding climbs going at a perfect pace.

David and Courtney Hayward from Kansas on the snowmobiling trip.
Provided/Kayla Anderson

Lake Tahoe Adventures has been running its snowmobile operations out of Zephyr Cove Resort and Hope Valley for the past three years when Aramark took over the longstanding outfitter. Featuring over 45 miles of trails that reach 9,000 feet above sea level, Lake Tahoe Adventures has a fleet of more than 100 snowmobiles. Extremely organized and accommodating keeping safety in mind, its handful of guides take groups of people out on its trails on morning, noon, late afternoon, and even early evening full moon rides.

On this particular day, two weeks after its season opening, couples, families, and groups of friends check into their snowmobile tour within the Zephyr Cove Resort Lodge, dressed in snow pants, ski jackets, and equipped with gloves and sunglasses/goggles. Those who forget a particular item can rent the added clothing items from the adjacent gear room which is where people get fitted for their helmets and then go outside and wait for the bus.

The two large tour buses promptly arrive, and quickly fill up with people. We are shuttled to a staging station at the edge of the Spooner backcountry, where everyone files out and lines up in front of nine guides.

A handful of people who came off the bus had done the tour before, and others were referred by friends and locals.

Our energetic mountain supervisor breaks people out in groups where their guide shows participants how to use the automatic machines. Our snowmobiles have heated seats and throttle grips. They are easy to use yet it’s important to be attentive and in control at all times. In my opinion, riding a snowmobile is pretty different from a motorcycle or any other type of motorized machine; our guide Lee Freeman says it best that snowmobiles are like “if a jet ski and an ATV had a baby.”

The groups take off into the trees, and it’s impressive how nice the trails are considering it hadn’t snowed for the past month. Aramark/Zephyr Cove Resort leases the extensive trail system from the US Forest Service, and they do their part to fill and groom the trails for not only their tours but for other snowmobilers and backcountry skiers to use. Two weeks after its season opening, six out of its 12 trails are open, approximately 21 miles of snowy paths. Our group was able to complete five out of the six trails in the allotted 2-hour timeframe, but it all depends on the people you’re with.

“There are two kinds of people who do these tours, ones who want to take pictures and see the scenery and the others who don’t care about pictures, they just want to haul ass,” Freeman said.

While our group slowed down as we rounded the bend to the first panoramic view of Lake Tahoe, (“Everyone always does that,” Freeman says. “I want to tell them that we will stop for pictures,” he smiles) everyone kept up pretty well. We ended up covering at least 16 miles, cresting over a few mountain tops, riding through a grove of aspens and around granite outcroppings, and getting unmatched mountain, meadow, and panoramic views of Lake Tahoe.

The group takes off from the staging area at the edge of Spooner backcountry.
Provided/ Kayla Anderson

This is the perfect way to try out snowmobiling without investing thousands of dollars to buy one of your own and see some incredible views of Lake Tahoe in a safe, controlled environment. And for those who are visiting, Zephyr Cove Resort, General Manager James Grant says, “This gives everyone an opportunity to go somewhere they haven’t been before and do something that they’d probably never do otherwise.”

It really is a truly memorable experience that will give anyone an adrenaline rush and awe-striking views of Lake Tahoe. It costs $220 to rent a single snowmobile, $260 for a double, and kids under the age of 15 can ride free on Wednesdays as long as they are with a paying adult.

For more information about snowmobile tours at Zephyr Cove Resort, visit or make a reservation by calling 800-238-2463.

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