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The January thaw arrived just in time to thaw….what? A bee keeper friend explained the January thaw is crucial for the survival of bees. The warming temps are an opportunity for the bees to clean out the hive which helps prevent disease in the colony. Bees are a vital part of food production and I like to eat so if a few days of mid 40F temps help ensure a good supply of fruits and vegetables the following summer, sacrificing a bit of snow is a worthwhile tradeoff.

This winter Vermont’s Upper Valley has not received very much snowfall so the bees chores should be vastly simplified. The trails around my house have a gross snowfall of 16″ since Thanksgiving with 3″ of ice encrusted white gunk still here.

With new trails cut, the desire to head out and ski is very high. I’m curious if the trails actually ski as well as planned. Before the rains of the January thaw, we had 3 to 4″ of snow cover which is just enough to ski on and hurt ones self.

Snow depth in the fields.

Snow depth in the woods.

Rocks, stumps, roots, sticks, and clods of frozen dirt along with very uneven ground are covered with a thin veneer of very powdery snow. My wife Jill and I decided to temp fate and go for a ski around the trails. In short, the skiing sucked worse than Tom Brady’s self deprecating analysis of his performance in the AFC title game. We were able to ski around the trails with several crashes onto the aforementioned debris and frozen earth. One crash produced an impressive hematoma on Jill’s rear end. Beg as I might, requests for photo documentation for the loyal CG readers was denied so you will have to take my word for it.

The raspberry covers and area the size of a tea saucer and from the correct vantage point, the bruise appears to be a mottled pair of cycling shorts (it covers one butt cheek and half a thigh). Fortunately, this is the extent of the injury.

One of the many hazards of skiing the trails with low snow.

On the plus side, we skied across the bridge! The 17 feet of hard earned trail brought a huge smile to my face while gliding and not fighting my way across the creek. In the open field sections of the trails the skiing was quite good and enjoyable.

Finally, tracks on the bridge!

Examining the weather forecast and seeing the lack of snow on the ground I am getting a bit discouraged about the prospects of grooming and fearlessly skiing the trails. I am aware there are still 2 months of snow producing weather ahead and we might receive more snow than we care for but right now my mood is pretty bleak.

Hoping to break up the hopelessness I contacted Harry Roberts, the east coast distributor for Yellowstone Track systems grooming equipment and also the North American importer of Alpina Sherpa (no relation to the boot company) snowmobiles. . Harry has a warehouse in White River Junction and we met up one afternoon so I could ogle the sleds and YTS gear. He offered me the chance to take a grooming pass on a trail with 4″ of snow. Cold weather and my lack of preparedness (no gloves, wearing sneakers) and having to pick the kids up from school forced me to take a raincheck.

The Sherpa is an impressive machine fitting in between a full on snowcat (Pisten Bulley, Thiokol, Prinoth) and a utility snowmobile. Powered by a Ford automobile engine driving twin tracks provides great floatation and traction. With a Sherpa it would be possible to pull wider equipment and groom up my trails making one pass rather than three. The market for these machines are touring centers and industries ranging from mineral exploration to energy production and transmission. I figured while I was dreaming of having snow I might as well fantasize about having a tow vehicle I can also use to pull cars out of ditches. Cutting grooming time and not smelling two stroke exhaust would also be a plus.

An Alpina Sherpa and Ginzu in action. The machine is big and I can't wait to give it a test drive.

The YTS grooming equipment is pretty cool too. After having built up a quiver of implements I’m not in the market for anything new right now but while I’m fantasy shopping let’s add an 82″ Ginzu with dual tracksetters to the order.



3 Responses to “Becoming Discouraged or Just Enought to get Hurt”

  1. Tim Kelley Says:

    Sherpa’s are nice. But what is the cost of one? And what is the ballpark price for the package w/Ginsu drag?

    Trail guys to the north of Anchorage tend to use big utility snowmobiles that are custom made for trail work on multi-use trails. Here is a picture of the Willow, AK trail groomer on a specially designed 14 thousand dollar, 4-stroke Arctic Cat with low range clutch and gearing and a super-sized radiator. These guys make their own trail drags (and they don’t set classic tracks). I believe they do around 5000-8000 miles of trail dragging a year. The guy in the picture told me that every mile of grooming is the same wear and tear as 3 miles of normal riding. Grooming is tough on machinery no matter what you use.


    These guys groom some nice trails with this snowmobile arrangement. See:

    Hope you get a big dump of snow soon!

  2. Kevin Brooker Says:

    Thanks for the links and info. I really appreciate when readers bring attention to what other CGs are doing.

    I believe the Sherpa’s cost is right around 40 grand and the Ginzu with the extra tracksetter runs about $5,700. Not pocket change and definitely something to remain on the fantasy shopping list along with a fully equipped Pisten Bully and full coverage snowmaking.

    Right now, a clapped out beater sled is out of budget, I tend to overcompensate and go big. When I find a setup (and the cash)in the $10,000 range it looks downright affordable.

    Thanks again, Kevin

  3. Tim Kelley Says:

    Hi Kevin, $40K for a Sherpa. Wow. I thought it would be half of that.

    My neighbor and I have been CGs for 15 years. I’ve used Polaris Widetraks the whole time. The machine I use you can buy used for $3K to $4K. We make our own drags, nothing fancy. Our trails are mostly 6-8 feet wide. We don’t do classic tracks. And we don’t even think of grooming if it’s icy.

    One issue that I would like to share with fellow and potential CGs that read this great blog: is that when choosing a track setting machine you need to take into account the terrain you will be grooming. Are you grooming over flat-surfaced, year-round trails? If so, life will be relatively easy for you. But if you are grooming “winter only” trails on trail-less-in-the-summer terrain, you will have more challenges. In particular – SIDEHILLS! Even 5% sidehill grades can cause a snowmobile pulling a drag to weathervane and go downhill, instead of going where you want it to go.

    We groom such winter-only trails, so after snowfalls in our neighborhood, my neighbors take lighter snowmobiles that they can “cant” on the sidehills and make a flat surface through the new snow. Then I come along after things set up with my beast machine and drag it. I can’t “roll” or “cant” my machine while breaking trail on sidehills because it is too heavy. A much heavier Sherpa with such a wide track wouldn’t get far on the sidehills of our trail system.

    Used 2 stroke utility snowmobiles like my Polaris WT (or Yamaha Vikings, Arctic Cat Bearcats or SkiDoo Scandik SWTs) are a 10th of the cost of a new Sherpa. New 4 stroke versions of the above machines are a bit more than a fourth of the cost of a new Sherpa. Used 4 stroke utility snowmachines are a bit hard to find (at least in AK), because they are relatively new and the types of people that buy them usually plan on keeping them for a long time.

    Power to the CGs! Cheers.