November 2, 2000
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana
By Donna Love
For the Pathfinder
Seeley Lake earned a sixth place spot in SnoWest Magazine's "Top Fifteen Snowmobile Trails In the West," survey, according to the October 2000 issue of SnoWest Magazine. This is the second year Seeley Lake has ranked sixth place. Other winners include (in order from first to fifth place) West Yellowstone, Continental Divide (in western Wyoming), Cooke City, Snowy Range (in southeastern Wyoming), and Island Park, Idaho.
SnoWest Magazine has rated the top fifteen snowmobile destinations in the west for the past five years. The Magazine's results are tabulated from surveys sent directly to its readership each year. Readers are asked to rank their favorite riding places and are given a sample list of fifteen different locations to choose from. "About fifty to sixty different [snowmobiling] sites exist in the West," said Curtis Friede, owner of Kurt's Polaris, which sells and services Polaris Snowmobiles. "Seeley Lake wasn't even on the sample list and it still came out in the top fifteen, so that's pretty decent," said Friede.
The locations were judged in ten categories including Scenery, Trail Grooming, Snow Quality, Trail Markings, Trail Map, Availability of Off-Road Riding, Crowds, Parking, Availability of Services and Accessibility to Riding Area.
Seeley Lake ranked high in five of these areas taking a first in Crowds, a second in Parking and Trail Grooming, a third in Trail Map and Availability of Services and a fourth in Trail Markings, which gave Seeley its overall rank as number six. Yellowstone, the top contender ranked high in every category except Snow Quality, Availability of Off-Trail Riding, Crowds and Parking.
Seeley Lake was listed as having two hundred and thirty miles of groomed trails with one hundred inches of snowfall a year. Yellowstone was listed as having four hundred miles of groomed trails (with another two hundred inside the Park) and has one hundred and forty-three inches of snowfall each year.
The SnoWest article had this to say about Seeley Lake: "Last winter, when snow was scarce about everywhere in the snowbelt, there was plenty of fluff in Seeley Lake. When people were complaining about rough trails, Seeley Lake had smooth, groomed trails. And when traditional snowmobiling areas were packed with winter recreationionists in search of snow, Seeley Lake remained relatively untouched by the outside world."
"We were pleased with the results," commented Gary Guse, owner of The Seeley Lake Fun Center, who sells, rents and services Artic Cat Snowmobiles, though he was hopeful that Seeley Lake would rank even higher this year due to the development of the new trail map. But the map wasn't done in time due to the state requiring that an EIS (Enviornmental Impact Statement) be completed on each trail before it could be on the map. "But the ranking is still good for the community and business," said Guse.
Another factor for Seeley's success is that word is getting around that Seeley Lake allows snowmobilers in town and that it always has snow in town to ride on. Being allowed to ride in town is a plus for riders who want to ride from their accommodations to restaurants or to the trails.
Friede explained that "only three other places in Montana allow snowmobilers in town. They are Cooke City, West Yellowstone and Lincoln, and," Friede added, "Lincoln doesn't always have enough snow in town to ride on."
Seeley's lowest mark in the survey was in Snow Quality. "There are some things we can't do anything about," Friede explained and added, "if we were five hundred to a thousand feet higher we would have better snow quality. We can add trails and accommodations, but we can't do anything about the rain, and rain stinks in the winter."
Ron Ogden, President of the Seeley Lake Driftriders, Seeley's local snowmobiling club, feels that Seeley can be proud of its rank. "It's right about where we should be," Ogden said pointing out that a couple of times last year, especially during the Snowcross in February, Seeley was "maxed out" facility-wise. Odgen pointed out that if Seeley rated much higher and people flocked here and couldn't find a place to stay then Seeley's ratings would go down the next year. He feels that where growth could happen for Seeley is in the "shoulder seasons" of the early winter and especially in the early Spring, when Seeley still has snow when other area don't.
Odgen was especially proud that Seeley was high in the categories of Grooming, Parking and Trail Markings, saying, "those were areas that the Club had worked hard on for the past three years."
The club's next focus will be on getting a good system of trails that lead out of town. Odgen said, "We are working on trails to the north, south and west," saying that "the trail leading east is already well established."
Another immediate problem that needs to be addressed is what to do about the road construction mess left in town by the Highway Department. "It's going to become a real problem [for snowmobilers] when the snow flies," Ogden said. He will be meeting with the Highway Department soon on this issue.
The downside of Seeley's growing popularity as a destination for snowmobilers is that Seeley Lake residents are bound to see an increase in snowmobiles and crowds, which means an increase in noise, accidents, speeding and trespassing.
Everyone agrees that these problems will need to be dealt with and that usually means more regulations such as speed limits, more on-trail riding-only areas, paddle size restrictions [usually limited to two inch paddles on the snowmobile track] and more closures for the local riders. Odgen doesn't pull any punches. He feels that "if snowmobilers are stupid enough to bring about the regulations then they deserve them."
If you would like to read more about what SnoWest Magazine has to say about Seeley Lake check out their September, 2000 issue, too. Steve Janes, SnoWest's Publisher devotes several pages of the September issue to his article titled, "Seeley Lake, When It's Time to Relax," in which Janes calls Seeley a "Montana Secret", "a quaint Montana town" and a "snowmobiling mecca." He completes his article by saying Seeley is "where the season is long, the snow is deep and the accommodations are outstanding."
Oops! The secret is out.