Many skiers dream of having ski trails pass their back door at home. The notion of stepping into your skis 30 seconds after closing the door sounds wonderful. The ability to fit in a quick 5 k ski before or after work and train consistently might be the difference between finishing on the podium or politely clapping for the winner from the crowd. For many skiers just spending time on the snow rejuvenates the body and mind giving the backyard trails even more appeal.
For me, the dream of having trails at home was more of a fantasy-in-progress endeavor. The house is located in the center of a seven-acre parcel of woods in Post Mills, Vermont. The house was originally built in a field populated by a few pioneer trees, mainly knee high pasture pine and a few poplars. Eventually these trees took over and the fields became forest. The poplar matured and began snapping and cluttering the woods. Poplar is horrible firewood but there is enough of it to keep the house warm so we collect, cut and burn it. Woods roads were cut to facilitate gathering the broken trees with hopes they might someday be transformed into skiable trails.
We built a single point biathlon range for shooting practice and having the ability to ski and shoot would be fantastic.
The dream of personal ski trails started coalescing into reality right after a summer biathlon in early October. A competitor and first time biathlete asked if the Pemi F&G club hosted races during the winter.
The woods roads on the club property work well for mountain bike events and would make decent ski trails if there were a way to groom them. By dumb luck or twist of fate this novice biathlete knew of a 48” TiddTech Trail Tenderizer sitting behind a barn in central NH. This Tidd was used for one season and parked. The asking price was just about the scrap value of the steel.
A groomer with nothing to pull it through the snow is worthless which led to the search for a snowmobile. My knowledge of snowmobiles is limited to a great dislike of the noise and smell of burned two-stroke exhaust. After asking a lot of questions and researching ski trail grooming I was convinced the proper snowmachine was in a class known as “utility”. These sleds are made to pull some piece of equipment which is usually a grooming implement of some sort.
A utility sled is air-cooled, has a wide track for remaining on top of loose snow and is geared to keep the engine in the powerband at the lower speed required for grooming. New utility sleds range in price from $10,000 to $35,000 putting them completely out of my limited budget of $1,500. Used utility sleds are difficult to find and when available sell within hours of being advertised.
The snow began to fall and searches of Craigslist were becoming and hourly event with hopes of being the first caller on the occasionally advertised utility sled. I missed out on several by minutes and became somewhat discouraged thinking the grooming dream might have to wait another year.
One morning in early January, a 1997 Polaris Indy Trail Touring Deluxe was advertised for $800. My buddy Steve in Minnesota has the same sled and has been successfully grooming fields near his house. Later that afternoon I was the proud owner of a snowmobile and about to lose my virginity as a ski trail groomer.
My hopes for the trails ride on being able to ski more for my family, the neighborhood and myself. My fears revolve around the trails not being used after great efforts to groom them. Unless grooming becomes an awful Sisyphean task, the goal is to groom for at least one season, barring excessive (expensive) equipment failure, to see if there is a favorable effort-to-reward ratio.
Citizen Groomer is not intended to be a “how-to” guide. It is intended to document my experience as I groom my own ski trails. The posts will most likely contain embedded bits of advice or examples of how some aspect of grooming has been accomplished.
The trails are my woods roads, a neighbors field combined with purpose designed and built ski trails at yet another neighbors property. I’m curious to see how the professionally designed and excavated trails compare to my somewhat hacked-in woods roads. All together there are 5k of loops and lollipop out and return spurs to maintain and ski. The dream is within reach. Will it be blissful or a nightmare?