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Runnin' On Empty

Engineering On The Mountain

Published in the September 2009 Issue Published online: Sep 23, 2009 Column LANE LINDSTROM

We all can marvel at the engineering of today's snowmobiles. I don't care what brand of snowmobile you prefer and which one you love to hate, we can all agree there are some spectacular feats of engineering in most every model.

We have all come to appreciate that engineering, especially those of us who love to ride in the mountains. Sleds today allow us to go farther into the backcountry, climb higher on the hill, go through insanely deep powder and negotiate tree-littered hills with precision.

Today's snowmobiles have made us better riders.

But when things go south in the backcountry, I've seen some real engineering genius. I'm talking about the smarts it takes to get man and machine back out when, by all rights, at the very least, you have to be towed out but sometimes a helicopter should be called in for the rescue. Yea, we love to go way back into the mountains but if something happens, we wish we were in walking distance of the truck.

I remember back in the days when we used to publish SnowAction, our race magazine, I went to watch a Rocky Mountain Cross Country Racing Circuit event near Driggs, ID. You might remember that the RMXCRC was a true cross country race circuit where the racers went out on a 40 or so mile loop and ran the loop twice, encountering all sorts of conditions along the way. I found a strategic spot on the race course to watch the racers come by and along came one racer in particular who had obviously ripped out the trailing arm on one side of his Polaris somewhere along the way. He had "borrowed" one or two of the race course markers-in this case some lath-strapped it to the broken trailing arm, applied a copious amount of duct tape and there he was still in the race. I remember being pretty impressed at the time by his ingenuity.

Another time we were riding in the netherlands near New Denver in southern British Columbia and one of the sleds in our group went down. Towing the sled out seemed like the only option, although with the difficult terrain and obstacles we faced going back out, that seemed like a Herculean task. Towing? No way, its owner said, and with a piece of this and parts of that, the sled was good to go-after several hours of work. We just climbed, played and boondocked while he worked on his machine. Again, I was pretty impressed he managed to get his sled not only running but well enough to play a little on the way back out.

The most recent feat of engineering I witnessed involved one of the 2010 snowmobiles I was riding last March at the photo shoots in Grand Lake, CO. Mountain 1, Lane 0. Anyone who has followed my column (and travails) knows what that means.

We had just finished an awesome day of riding near the headwaters of the Illinois River and were coming down the south side of the Illinois Pass Trail on a freshly groomed trail. That same trail was shelled out when we went in earlier in the day but was smooth as glass on the way out-too smooth. I went a little too hot into a corner and clipped a tree on a brand new 2010 Arctic Cat. Scratch clipped. How about nailed a tree? A fairly big tree. I was lucky I didn't straddle the tree between the ski and bulkhead (or call in the helicopter). Rather, through sheer dumb luck, I had enough leverage on the machine that the outside of the ski hit the tree and I "glanced off" the trunk but the damage was still pretty severe. The A-arms were toast. I bent the shock. I ripped the A-arms from the bulkhead. It looked like the left side of the sled had a flat tire, only worse. It was nasty.

We were 20 miles from the parking lot.

Fortunately, we had two Arctic Cat mountain sled experts (Mike and Shay) along, as well as a Polaris mountain sled expert (Lyle). They surveyed the damage and went to work. I can't even begin to describe how they managed to patch the sled's front end together well enough to ride it all the way back to the parking area. It involved about a three-inch tree trunk, some rope, a bungee and a whole lot of engineering smarts. I won't say it was smooth sailing all the way to the parking area as my engineering buddies had to tighten things up a couple of times, but the sled made it in. And after some wrenching (and lots of new parts) overnight, the sled looked darn near like new by morning. There were some lingering bark marks on a couple of spots but other than that, wow, I was impressed. They even saved me some parts, which I have in my office as a reminder of that day.

I guess necessity is the mother of invention but I'm amazed at how some people can figure things like that out. Engineering on the mountain might just be some of the best around.