For many Long Islanders, this is indeed "the winter of our discontent." Restrictions on nonessential activities, now in their 11th month, are leaving legions of involuntary homebodies champing at the proverbial bit. Making matters worse, many of the permissible social-distanced outdoor activities are no longer doable now that winter is upon us.
So if bursting out of your at-home confinement in a big — but still Covid-cautious — way is just the desperate measure you think is called for, consider a guided snowmobile tour. For starters, zipping through snow-covered woods is both mentally exhilarating and a therapeutic complete change of scenery. And it is inherently Covid-minimal. Not only are you outdoors the whole time, the size of the sleds (as they are commonly referred to) and the speeds at which you will be traveling (up to 40 mph) effectively enforce social distancing.
While most commercial snowmobile renters will let you go off on your own after some basic instruction (driving a snowmobile is not difficult and anybody with a driver’s license can legally do it), a guided tour allows you to forsake open-field loops and head to the back country in search of scenic and isolated places you would be hard-pressed to find on your own without the risk of getting lost. Equally important, should anything mechanical go wrong with your sled, there’ll be someone there who knows how to fix it.
So what’s not to like? Well, other than the noise, snowmobiling is not cheap. And it is always "weather permitting," which generally means at least 6-10 inches of snow, conditions that are only reliably met hours to the north. So to make the trip more worthwhile, consider spending a night (or two) up there to take advantage of some of the other winter sports opportunities available, such as skiing (both cross country and downhill), snowshoeing, skating, and sledding. Remember, you’ll only be going back into confinement when you get home.
For a complete rundown of operative local Covid protocols, consult with your tour operator before you go. Helmets, which are sanitized after each use, are always provided, but riders are generally required to supply their own balaclavas, and of course, dress appropriately.
Rip Van Winkle Ranch
Just west of Hunter Mountain in the northern Catskills, Rip Van Winkle Ranch is by far the closest snowmobile tour operator to metro New York. Its standard offering is a half-hour tour ($40 adults, $20 children, cash only) of 8-10 sleds, but hourlong tours can also be arranged. Reservations, however, are not accepted. Just show up and wait your turn.
INFO: Haines Falls, 518-589-6215
C + C Adirondack Snowmobiling Tours
Located about 15 miles northwest of Lake George Village, C and C offers two daily backwoods tours through the Northern Warren Trailblazers system, each customized for the ability and desire of the participants. The one-hour costs $90 for a single rider (must be 17 to drive), $110 for a double sled, and $50 for a passenger riding with the guide. The two-hour option costs $159 for a single rider, $194 for a double sled, and $85 for a passenger riding with the guide.
INFO: Chestertown, 518-796-1308, candcsnomobiling.com
ADK Snowmobile Outfitters
This snowmobile dealer/rental operator in the western Adirondacks also offers full day (8:30 a.m. — 5 p.m.) guided tours during which you will cover between 50 and 100 miles and have three indoor food stops. Sled rental depends on model, but averages $300 (plus insurance), and each group of four sleds will need its own guide (an additional $300).
INFO: Old Forge, 315-280-8610, snowmobileoutfitters.com