It was one of those things that when it happens, you tell yourself it just goes with the territory. That is, if...

     It was one of those things that when it happens, you tell yourself it just goes with the territory. That is, if you are going to own recreational vehicles and have to tow them to ride them, you will have problems with your trailer lights at some point in time. And, you will have problems with tires, wheels, brakes and bearings – somewhere, sometime. It will happen.

      This time it was the familiar right turn signal and right brake was not coming on. At first you think it is the trailer, but a quick check with the voltmeter reveals it is with the truck, you don’t have twelve volts on the green line.

      Then you remember, anytime you lose the right turn and brake it is because there is a short in the PWC trailer. That was the last trailer hooked up, so it must have taken out the fuse again. Bummer. You carry a bag of fuses in the center console, because this too goes with the territory. If you have a truck and tow trailers, you will need fuses – at some point in time.

      Pop the hood, lift the cover on the fuse box, take a quick look at the fuse map to see which one it is for sure, pull the fuse, yep, sure enough it is open – the fuse is blown. Install a new one, quick check at the back of the trailer, it all works. Sweet. Problem solved. Good thing you are technical.

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      It makes you wonder how people less technically inclined can survive such an incident and not have it consume their whole day trying to figure it out. But then again, we are snowmobilers. If you are a snowmobiler, you have to have some technical savvy to be able to survive. These are machines, ones that operate in some of the worst possible conditions, and being mechanical in nature there will be issues. That is why we carry tools, spare drive belts, spare spark plugs and tow ropes. Stuff happens. Oh, and black duct tape, it’s great for holding a broken windshield together, or a busted side panel or hood. Always carry duct tape, black Gorilla works best at cold temps. Just ask Rob (got ya’).

      Like just this past winter, we were well over 100 miles into a ride and one of our guys clipped a stump really close to the edge of the trail. It was hard to see it with the fresh snowfall, just a couple inches off the trail and the right ski and runner caught it, pulling back the a-arms and breaking the shock. Once it happens, your first concern is for the rider, following a forced dismount. He tumbled it out and was OK. The sled could be ridden slowly tipped up on one ski. Luckily we were less than 2 miles from a plowed road at a state park with a parking area next to a U.S. highway. Damn lucky. Once we got the sled to this point which we could access with a truck and trailer, we left the rider with his sled and the other two of us bolted back to the truck, a good 70 miles as the crow flies.

      When on a retrieval mission you go at a steady pace and keep moving, time and daylight becomes a valuable resource. You know it will take a couple hours to get back to the truck, then well over an hour to drive back to get the sled. Then that long to come back again.

      The sun was just going down as we loaded the sled into our trailer and headed back to our starting point of the day. The rescue mission had been completed and all was well, everything secure. This has happened to us enough times over the years where you have to rescue a dead sled that you know it just goes with the territory of being a snowmobiler. It is not a matter of “if” but “when” you will have a sled go down and need to be towed in, or picked up by a trailer. Pistons seize. Drive shafts break. Tracks come apart. Deer jump out in front of you. Stumps come out of nowhere. Oil pumps quit working. Skis fall off. You have to be able and ready to deal with the unexpected. You are going to be a sharper individual than most. You will be good at reading a map and finding your way through the woods. You pay attention to details. You can keep things running. You can improvise and adapt when things go wrong. You expect the unexpected.

      But, with each passing year, these characteristics and skills are less and less a critical item needed to participate in the sport of snowmobiling. Instead of it being mandatory that you are a skilled wrench, electrician and field navigator, you see the shift in the prerequisites required to be a snowmobiler. I offer as an example the number of riders who are unable to change a drive belt. Think about that one. Not too many years ago you wouldn’t dare go out on a sled and not know how to change a drive belt. Better drive belt construction and far better clutching calibrations work wonders. Today it is commonplace for riders to go years without ever changing a drive belt. Or spark plugs. Weaker ignition systems and over-rich calibrations used to foul spark plugs far more often. These days it is much less frequent to have to change a spark plug on today’s newer machines. Now they actually wear out the firing electrode before they foul. It’s a good thing.

      Even though today’s sleds continue to become more and more reliable, more and more capable, and mechanical issues are less and less frequent, you know as well as I do that the above-mentioned skills are still very important and valuable to have as a snowmobiler. It isn’t as simple as hopping in your car and turning the key. You have to know how to dress for the conditions. You have to know where to go to unload and how to get there, and where you are going once you take off on your sled. You have to know your sled, its capabilities and limitations, as being stuck or stranded is no fun in the wrong place on the wrong sled. You have to know the dangers of riding – thin ice, hidden obstructions (culverts, stumps, trees, posts, you name it). There is quite an extensive set of skills needed to be a safe and savvy snowmobiler, even with ultra-reliable equipment. It isn’t easy, or else everyone would be doing it. Then again, maybe that’s why we do it. There’s nothing else like it. We are willing to pay the price for the thrill it produces, willing to learn the skills, willing to put up with the inevitable. We conquer cold. We dominate terrain. We rule the snow. We are snowmobilers.

From the Oct/Nov 2015 issue of SnowTech Magazine.

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