January 2nd, 2014
Grooming with a snowmobile not intended to move slowly while pulling a load has its drawbacks. In addition to burning up belts and fouling plugs the biggest hassle is not being able to steer very well. Having the Citizen Groomer blog mixed in amongst the Athlete’s Blogs has always felt a bit out of place. A guy riding around on a petrol burning snow machine doesn’t seem to fit in with the contributing World Cup athletes and coaches until I remembered how tired I am after a wrestling match with the sled; shoveling a few driveways volume of snow to level the trails; and grappling with equipment. My clothing has the unique malodorous combination of sweat and 2-stroke exhaust. The physical effort of grooming helps me feel a bit less out of place.
The other day I received an email announcing a fellow CG in NH was selling off his tracked 4-wheeler and a few implements. Dave is the guy who warned me about grooming becoming addictive and an end in itself back when I was contemplating setting up the local trails. I was a bit too late contacting him and the equipment was sold off to another local family heading down the GC path.
Large, wet snow began to fall and the idea of grooming was daunting. The sled wouldn’t steer very well in the barely frozen water passing off as snow. If it could be compacted well, the base for the rest of the season would be solid and a superb foundation for simpler grooming and exciting skiing.
The general consensus among the CG community is a tracked 4-wheeler or UTV is the way to go for grooming. Better traction, steering and smaller learning curve compared to a sled. With the missed opportunity for acquiring Dave’s setup my attention turned to improving the steering of the pressed into service touring sled here at the house. There are several good websites dealing with grooming. Somewhere there is a post about using a dolly to carry the load of the equipment to alleviate the compression of the rear suspension and keep the weight over the front end so the skis have a bit of tooth and actually turn the sled.
There was a bit of tubing and bedframe left over from the roller build and a pile of outdated alpine skis sitting in the corner of the basement; just enough stuff to build a dolly. Not knowing what to do and having a basic idea of what this dolly is supposed to accomplish was enough to jump in. A few hours later and it was finished and put to work.
The Tidd is the heaviest piece of equipment here at the shop and also the largest contributor to the steering whoas. When putting the teeth into the snow to chop the surface the extra drag puts a downward vector on the suspension making the steering even worse. Within the first twenty feet of the pass a right-angle turn in required to access the trails and the sled just turned without a lot of grunting and gymnastics on the bars. Two hundred meters later is the nightmare situation of a slightly off-camber, slow right hand bend into a short but steep hill with another hard left-hander at the top. If the dolly was going to prove its worth, this 40 meters of trail was the interview. There was a bit of hesitation by me fearing the potential to stuff the sled into the woods but the the entire ensemble went smoothly around the turns and up the hill. It worked!
The remainder of the grooming was orders of magnitude simpler and much more enjoyable. The extra coupling and length did require a bit of line adjustments but the positive steering made it easy by comparison. The roller has the least effect on the steering. With snow predicted tonight (flakes are falling as this is written) and just for S&Gs I left the dolly in place to roll in a section of connector trail in need of more snow. If the 6″-8″ falls as predicted this trail will be pretty deep and a bear to get firm. The dolly improved the handling with the roller in tow.
A dolly is critical for the not optimally equipped CG. The sexy equipment to chat/brag about are the debates between the Tidd and YTS Ginzu and the merits of the tracked UTV (do I get the Gator or the Ranger?) and how best to set the tracks. There is nothing sexy or cool about a tow dolly and it is so easy to underestimate its worth and the beauty of simplicity.