In a world where track length and lug height on mountain sleds have been steadily increasing, and with so many options currently available, it leaves snowmobilers wondering, “What’s right for me?”. Choosing the proper track length and lug height for your riding style and snow conditions is critical to satisfaction with your sled. What one person feels is optimal, the next may not like. So, let’s shed a little light on this subject to help you in your purchase decision.
The 153/154/155 track length is what we consider the “short track” of the true mountain family. These days, anything shorter than this is a crossover sled track length. It is very agile and provides more track speed than longer length versions. We find that this length is super playful, especially in the tight trees and creek bottoms. It typically will allow you to lift the front end of the sled at will by simply touching the throttle and pulling back on the bars a bit. Split second decisions are easily accomplished when negotiating tight terrain, but in deep snow this length requires you to carry and maintain more momentum, as it lacks flotation in comparison to the longer lengths.
The shortfall of this track length comes on long steep pulls or sidehills. On a long, steep pull in soft snow, the front end will tend to come up easier and we find that we have to ride forward on this track length to try to keep the front end down and keep the sled from trenching when climbing. Now, in harder snow conditions like we have in the spring (snow that has enough water content that a snowball can almost be made out of it and with a harder base within 18 inches underneath), this length can be an advantage as it builds more track speed which can propel the sled up a steep hill quicker. On long steep sidehills, this length tends to “wash out” easier, meaning the track will tend to spin downhill leaving the sled pointed uphill and the rider wondering why he just got stuck. Rider skill and forward foot placement can help overcome this, but it is more difficult on this length track.
The 162/163/165” track length is what we consider the heart of the market (at least for the deep dry powder found in the Intermountain West). This is often cobsidered to provide the perfect blend of flotation and maneuverability. While not quite as agile as the shorter length tracks, the difference in maneuverability when the snow gets deep (beyond 18” of fresh, dry powder) is considerable. Also, this length provides a more stable platform for those long, steep climbs as it keeps the front end down without having to get your body weight way over the bars. And on those long steep sidehills, this length allows the rider to be a bit lazier in foot placement without tending to “wash out”. Yet, it still is short enough to turn on a dime or pop out of that creek bottom with the proper inputs applied. In spring type snow conditions, it does not provide the track speed of the shorter versions, but that is a trade-off that we are willing to make as we are always searching for that deep, dry, light powder and we want our sleds to perform best in that snow condition.
The 174/175” track length provides unparalleled floatation and stability. In simple terms, you have a larger footprint for even great flotation (think big snow shoe). When the snow gets deep (meaning waist deep or better), this is the track you want to have. It is difficult to get this track stuck. It will climb about anything snow will stick to without the nose of the sled coming up or trenching. Also, it sticks to a sidehill like no other without “washing out” unless you purposely get it to. This track length allows you to slow down, pick your line and negotiate tight terrain where on shorter tracks you will find yourself stuck. However, where it lacks is in the agility department. It takes longer to turn, so sometimes you have to slow down a bit and apply more rider input. It also is not as nimble in the creek bottoms and not as fast in spring type snow conditions as its track speed is lower. Where we see this fitting is with two uniquely different riders. The expert rider who is always searching for the deepest snow known to man is obvious. What is not quite so obvious is the beginner to intermediate rider who lacks the skills and experience to ride tight terrain fast, but wants to go the same places as his more experienced buddies. This track length allows him to slow down and negotiate this technical terrain at a more comfortable speed. With this track, the rider can stop, gain his balance or pick his line and take off again sometimes even when pointed uphill. It is an ultimate beginner track length as well as being perfect for the expert rider.
2.5/2.6” verses 3” lug height
Today’s true mountain tracks are primarily 2.5” to 3” lug heights. Bigger is always better… isn’t it? The answer isn’t that cut and dried as it is more dependent on the snow conditions of your area and how far you have to ride a trail to get to the deep stuff.
The 2.5/2.6” lug height is the best for all season riding. This height tends to process the snow well in most conditions. It is better than the 3” lug when the snow is hard or in spring type snow conditions as it does not tend to fold over as easily, instead penetrating and biting. In deep, dry, light powder, it works well, but this condition is where its 3” counterpart shines. In a fresh foot or more of dry powder snow, we find that the 3” lug has the advantage as it can shovel more snow and propel the sled forward rather than just spinning. Since this is the condition that we want our sleds to perform the best in, we most often choose to outfit our sleds with 3” lug tracks.
Now, there are some pitfalls to 3” lug tracks. If you have to ride the trail more than a few miles to get to the good snow, you must be very cautious not to overheat the track or hyfax. The longer lugs lift the belting of the track farther off of the snow letting less snow access the hyfax to cool it and the track. We have all seen tracks with lugs thrown off of them, and this is most often caused by overheating the track. It is important to run ice scratchers (down) whenever on the trail with 1” or less of fresh snow (if there’s ever a question, put the ice scratchers down on the trail). Running at high speed (60 mph or higher) for extended periods of time can also throw lugs on 3” track models. Periodically slow down and dip off in the deeper snow to the side of the trail whenever possible.
Rider weight must also be considered when choosing track lengths and lug heights. I weigh about 220 pounds. For lighter riders weighing in less than 180 pounds, the shorter tracks and shorter lug heights may be more advantageous as the negatives will be reduced simply due to rider weight. For heavier riders, 250 pounds or more, longer deeper lug tracks will typically be found beneficial. Rider height also factors into this, as a taller rider acts like a longer lever when tipping the sled up, making them better suited for longer tracked sleds as they are able to leverage it easier.
The snow conditions that we base our opinions on are primarily for the dry, light powder found in the Intermountain West. For heavier snow conditions found in Oregon, Washington and some places in British Columbia Canada, you may find that you like the 2.5/2.6 inch lug height best. Taller lugs work better in drier snow, lower lugs are better suited for wetter snow.
By Jerry Matthews, SnowTech Western Test Staff