The newest off-road craze hits Eagle County's double track.
By Melanie Wong
It’s an ATV. It’s a dune buggy. It’s a… RZR.
At first glance, you might not know what to make of the newest off-roading craze. When Polaris came out with the RZR (pronounced “razor”), a four-seat utility-terrain vehicle a few years ago, they quickly became the newest darlings of the double track. It looks something like a sleek ATV with a cage, or a mini dune buggy, with all the power and more maneuverability than a jeep. Jacked up on 14-inches of suspension, it can climb over rocks and obstacles at five times the speed of a bulkier rock crawler.
It’s easy to drive, with none of the gears and levers of an ATV, and not requiring any of the weight balance that ATVs or snowmobiles demand. You drive it like a car, with a gas pedal, brake and options for two or four wheel drive. You could call it an extreme, glorified golf cart.
“This is like a four-wheeler on steroids,” says Florida resident Ken Palastrant, still breathless and grinning from his first ride on a RZR.
Start your engines
Palastrant and his family were at the headquarters of guiding company Sage Outdoor Adventures, located on more than 18,000 acres of Piney Valley Ranch and public lands outside of Wolcott. It was a temperate afternoon and the air was heavy with dark clouds that threatened to drop rain, but that didn’t faze the Palastrants.
The family took a two-and-a-half hour tour on the RZRs on the ranch’s diverse and open playground, an activity that has quickly become one of the company’s biggest attractions along with rafting in the summer and snowmobiling in the winter, says Darryl Bangert, co-owner of Sage Adventures.
“They have kind of made jeeps obsolete,” says Bangert, practically gloating with pride at his fleet of shiny RZRs. “We first saw them in Moab, and knew they were going to be the next big thing.”
Bangert and his son, Cole, worked on bringing a fleet out to Eagle County, and have been running RZR tours since last year. After arming you with helmets and goggles, a guide takes you on a tour of the ranch and you can choose to drive or be a passenger. A tour not only provides giggle-worthy stretches of fast dirt roads through forests and fields, but sweeping 360-degree views of the county, Castle Peak, the Gore Range, lakes and wildlife.
A herd of deer might pop up on the horizon, sheep might mill around the woods nearby, or you might even be lucky enough to spot a bear, says guide Dane Leery.
When not tearing around the trails with his group, Leery will stop to show them bear scratches on the aspen bark, tell them about the geological history of the rocks and cliffs, or take his crew on a short nature hike to lookout spots that afford terrific views.
The fun part is that even Leery and Bangert say that they’re still exploring the many routes on the ranch. They haven’t even scratched the surface, they admit.
The beauty of the company’s location on Piney River Ranch is the emptiness of the grounds – it is located 10 minutes from the interstate exit, but gives the feeling of being a world away. In the winter, snowmobile and RZR tours (yes, the RZRs can be driven in snow) have an added element of open fields of snow and white-laden forests, says Bangert.
“Throughout my entire life, I thought that if I could find a job that allowed me to be outside, that’s what I wanted to do. I just needed to figure out how to do that,” says Bangert.
And he has -- Bangert, a legendary rafter in his own right, founded Lakota Guides, the rafting company. He left the business for a number of years, and then he began Sage Adventures in 2009 with his son as a raft-guiding company headquartered in Granite. That winter, he added snowmobiles to the mix, then a clay-shooting course at Piney River Ranch. With the addition of the RZRs, Bangert’s created his own personal outdoor fun center on the expansive ranch.
“I love seeing the people. We’re lucky enough to work and live out here. It’s so cool to see the guys who visit from other states. They get dirty and are just smiling once they get out the vehicles. They take off their helmets and see each other and just laugh,” he says.
The way he sees it, he not only gets to be outside doing what he loves, but gets to share that with his customers.
“Recreate is literally re-create. That’s what people come to Colorado to do. It’s a paradigm shift. We allow people to recreate their life view in a natural setting. It’s really fun to see them do it,” he says.