By Mark Freeman
Garrett Carniglia has seen much of the West and parts of Canada from the seat of his snowmobile for months on end, a chosen lifestyle for a guy with two-stroke gas running through his veins.
“It’s what I live for,” says Carniglia, of John Day. “I work all summer and fall just to play all winter.”
The Diamond Lake area, with more than 300 miles of groomed snowmobile trails and open hillsides, is one of the top playgrounds Carniglia has ever ridden.
Despite short-term restrictions from warm rain — snowmobilers’ kryptonite — Carniglia’s introduction to the Diamond Lake snowmobiling experience last week garnered high grades.
“I’d imagine under good circumstances, riding here would be immaculate,” he says. “I just got back from Canada, and I’d say (Diamond Lake) is definitely top five, maybe number sevenish, especially for the views and the facilities.”
The Oregon State Snowmobile Association came to Diamond Lake Resort last week for its annual convention and community rides, with the takeaway message that one of Oregon’s only destination snowmobile resorts is well worth the trek.
It’s something Eagle Point’s Dennis Jordan knows well.
“What we’re doing is showing all the people from all over the state what great riding we have here at Diamond Lake,” says Jordan, OSSA’s newly installed president.
Even in poor snow seasons marred by warm weather and occasional rain, the Diamond Lake area is a go-to spot for all riding abilities.
Close to 100 of OSSA’s roughly 1,000 members from across the state took part in a series of rides last week before their Saturday night banquet, with riders running the gamut of snowmobiling experience and abilities.
The 47-year-old association is a collection of 25 local clubs like the Rogue Snowmobilers that use a mix of volunteer hours and Oregon Department of Transportation money to maintain about 6,000 miles of groomed trails throughout the state.
“I can go almost anywhere in the state of Oregon, ride a great trail system that OSSA has put in,” Jordan says. “I can go high in the mountains and I leave no trace because when the snow is gone, my tracks are gone.”
The resort landed the coveted convention in hopes of a strong snow year, but last week’s ill-timed warm rains could not wash out the association’s festivities, though it did lead to the cancellation of some of one day’s planned ride.
“We have one of the best snowmobile trail systems in the state, and we’ve got enough (snow) to play,” resort spokesman John Jonesburg says.
During association events like the one at Diamond Lake, riders are grouped by experience for a mix of riding trails, doing tricks in open areas — such as the iced-over surface of West Lake in the Umpqua National Forest — and climbing open hills.
Snowmobiles use two-stroke engines, meaning they run on a mix of gas and oil. They are also always in gear, with idles set to keep the machine stationary until the driver pulls in the throttle on the right handlebar.
The left handlebar includes the brake, which must be feathered into use.
You use the brake like you’re driving a car on ice,” says Ariel Mehle, who metes out snowmobile rentals at the resort and gives inexperienced riders tutorials on the machines. “You jam on it, your back end comes up, you get squirrelly, and chances are you’re not staying on it.”
Most riders have a need for speed.
Maria Sammons of the Mount Jefferson area rode the Diamond Lake trails for the first time in a light rain, with 5-year-old daughter Olivia in front of her.
“Today (her speed) was anywhere from 20 to 55 mph,” Sammons says. “Maybe we’re going a little fast, especially on the curves.”
Many others, however, treat the riding area that straddles the Rogue River-Siskiyou and Umpqua national forests as one huge school zone, rarely eclipsing 20 mph even on straightaways.
On trail rides, snowmobilers are urged to keep at least four machine lengths behind the rider in front to create more opportunities for braking.
Make sure you know your sled, as far as keeping control of it,” Sammons says. “Even if you’re on the throttle, I always keep my hand over the brake.
“Basically, go the speed you’re comfortable in, even if you fall behind,” she says.
Carniglia loves nothing more than exploring new hillsides by powering his way around trees.
“It’s the best adrenaline rush you can have,” Carniglia says. “It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had.”
It’s also a feeling that’s better absorbed at slower speeds than many of his fellow riders, especially in the mountains around Diamond Lake.
“For me, it’s not about speed,” Carniglia says. “It’s putting myself in incredible places and look back and go, ‘How did I get here?’”