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The snow has been falling off and on for the past two weeks leaving no appreciable accumulation. When 3″ of fluff managed to stick sometime near December 12, it was time to begin skiing. The first ski of the year is almost never on the local trails and this season was no different. Skiing laps of the local grass strip airfield cut the ribbon and opened the season. Time to think about getting the sled going with a snowstorm predicted.

The rail is always a good indicator of snowfall.

The rail is always a good indicator of snowfall.

The sled almost ready to go. Add fuel, chainsaw, and a shovel and we're off.

The sled almost ready to go. Add fuel, chainsaw, and a shovel and we’re off.


After a legitimate strength workout with the pull starter cord, the snow machine awoke from the summer hibernation, belched forth a cloud of blue smoke and the pinging exhaust note of the two-stroke reverberated throughout the shed. A quick run around the field to try and burn any gunk off the plugs and the Polaris was parked and ready for action. The first groomable snow fell on the 15th and with the “should have been replaced this past summer” PVC frame still intact, the roller was hitched up and grooming commenced.

Why I carry a chainsaw. This was unusual as I didn't get to o as much trail cleanup as in years past so I figured being prepared to do some work was a good idea.

Why I carry a chainsaw. This was unusual as I didn’t get to o as much trail cleanup as in years past so I figured being prepared to do some work was a good idea.

The snow was 8″ of champagne powder which was super dry having fallen in single digit temps. The roller knocked out the air but didn’t do too much to pack the snow. The coverage was minimal and wanting to ski more than groom, only the trails with mown grass were rolled in about an hour.

I just love the look of a first pass on a trail.

I just love the look of a first pass on a trail.

Without enough snow to fill in the big undulations, a bit of shoveling will be needed to level everything. The original plan was using an excavator this summer but it didn't materialize

Without enough snow to fill in the big undulations, a bit of shoveling will be needed to level everything. The original
plan was using an excavator this summer but it didn’t materialize

One goal of early season grooming is packing out the trails much wider than they will ever be skied. In some placed the trail is packed twenty feet wide. Throughout the season the trails become narrower as the skiing surface moves away from the ground in a slight triangular cross section. With each successive snowfall the trail surface rises up creating a “ditch” along the edges. Snowmachines don’t do well in deep, unconsolidated snow and seek well groomed and firm snow with greater vigor than most skiers. If the sled moves too close to the “ditch” it falls off the trail and a lot of swearing, shoveling, and sweating takes place extricating the the snowmobile.

Many older skiers claim the changing lines and elevation on the circuitous trails of old were more fun to ski. This might be true. The advent of skating brought with it wider trail systems and larger grooming equipment. The larger equipment also required wide trails to properly groom. A thirty foot long snowcat and drag/tiller combination cannot negotiate a series of closely linked curves. I never understood the move to wide trails myself until spending time on the sled grooming. The old Polaris isn’t as large as a Pisten Bulley but I often times hope certain trees will break so I can cut them away and remove some of the headaches encountered when grooming.

After rolling 75% of the trails my confidence was growing (it always takes a bit of remembering what to do, how to watch the ski to gauge clearance of the roller with respect to obstacles, etc) the roller frame bumped a small tree and succumbed to a catastrophic failure. Tossing the mangled carcass aside, the remaining snow was packed under the sled. Not having to worry about the implement it was actually fun tearing around the trails enjoying the floating sensation of the sled on new snow.

Lashing the PVC together to get the remains home.

Lashing the PVC together to get the remains home.

To build another frame there was the need for materials. Wood and PVC were stopgaps. What I needed was steel. Getting to the supply house an hour away wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. I still had a few finals to take and should have been studying and not screwing around with grooming. Remembering the EMT conduit at the local building supply, I grabbed a few bits of carpet to protect the roof of my new car (a 2003 Toyota Echo) and returned home with thirty feet of 2″ galvanized pipe. When finals ended the tubing notcher was excavated from the tool crib and a quick CAD drawing gave me dimensions and a few hours later I had a roller frame hopefully built with more resistance to failure than the three previous attempts.

For the hitch a U-bolt was brazed to the pipe. Not having any brass rod, a few dozen spent .22 casings were melted into the joint. A quick twist with a wrench to confirm it should hold and the roller was slid into place ready to pack out the next snowfall.

Roller surfing to test the strength. Hopefully it will stand up to the abuse it gets mostly bouncing off trees.

Roller surfing to test the strength. Hopefully it will stand up to the abuse it gets mostly bouncing off trees.

Eager to move onto the next house project i fired up the sled with the intent of returning to the grooming shed. 30 meters later I was dragging the frame without the roller. In my haste to get going i forgot to tighten the clamps and the roller departed. Feeling like a complete moron-dumb-ass I just stood in the yard and laughed. The roller gremlins were not chased off by welded steel.

Just laugh, it's okay.

Just laugh, it’s okay.

A few hours of dragging the Tidd packed out the snow and the skiing while not superb, was really fun. We need a few more inches to enable the leveling drag to work its magic. Rain is in the forecast and we’ll see what happens to the snow. My hope is the water consolidates things into a hard base sealing off the hoar frosted earth and setting us up for a really great season.

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