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Evening out with D.R.A.G of Speculator

Mike Walenczyk of D.R.A.G of Speculator invited me to do a grooming run with him. Sunday, January 25th at 5PM was the date and time it went down!

My last experience operating a “groomer” was dragging a box spring laden with a couple of cinder blocks behind my snowmobile to smooth out my local “switch back” trails in town back in the late 1980s. It was a nice concept, but my rigged up cob-job would fall apart after a couple of tries. Dad’s Moto Ski Mirage II didn’t have much power, so I probably smoked the drive belt up pretty good.

I respect the people who groom our trails. I’ve talked to enough grooming operators to know that it’s a tough and sometimes thankless job. Mike’s invitation was an excellent way for me to experience first hand what goes into grooming a trail.

My weapon for the evening was “Old Betsy”, a Skandic that has seen better days but was up for the job of grooming LP4A: 

DRAG skandic

DRAG of Speculator Grizzly and Skandic

After Mike gave me instructions on how to control the drag lift, lights and transmission, it was time to proceed with Grooming 101. It had been a bitterly cold windy day, but the wind died down in the evening for a pleasant run down LP4A.

Tail Hook

This video shows my first blooper. Mike is up front and I’m donning the helmet cam. Things are going well out of the gate on this tandem pass. Then at 00:28, I execute a “tail hook”. Watch me go from slow to stop in a millisecond:

Sudden stop! from Darrin @ ilsnow.com on Vimeo.

It was a small rock, Mike knew to avoid it. But I didn’t and the tail hook jarred me to a sudden stop. Thankfully, I didn’t break anything. After spinning the track for a second, I realized that I needed to lift the drag off the rock and move on.

Bridge fail

This was the part I worried about: the Route 30/8 bridge. I knew that sidewalk was going to be a tough balancing act. At the start of the next video, you can see we’re putting up some nice ribbon. But that bridge was coming up quick. At about 00:30 I realized my drag was sliding off the trail onto the road shoulder. I tried gamely to keep it going and pull it back onto the sidewalk trail.

Fail on bridge from Darrin @ ilsnow.com on Vimeo.

At 00:44, Mike’s drag was starting to slide off. But he was able to right his ship. Me? Umm…not so much. After wallowing like a stuck pig for a bit, the solution became apparent: lift the drag and move on.

Groove on!

After the difficult bridge crossing, I was able to get into a groove. The next clip shows us replacing ripple with ribbon:

D.R.A.G. of Speculator grooming LP4A on 1/25/15 from Darrin @ ilsnow.com on Vimeo.

Since we were next to the highway, that section of trail is almost always snirty. But stamping out the studders is more than good enough through here.

There are several snowmobile bridges on LP4A. When crossing the bridges, we had to lift the drags as our machines crossed the bridge so we wouldn’t tail hook the bridge and rip placks out. At the same time, snow from our drags would dump onto the bridges. Thankfully, I was able to do this without incident.

We only had one minor break. Mike’s drag hitch shear pin broke. No big deal, just a 10-15 minute stop to replace the shear pin and re-attach the drag to his Grizzly:

Quick trail side repair

Quick trail side repair on LP4A

The return trip to Cedarhurst had no issues and we finished smoothing out LP4A. Mike did all the skill work and I was the greenhorn who was just there not to mess thing up that badly.

It was very rewarding to help whip this trail back into shape after a weekend of heavy traffic. After the grooming run was completed, Mike and I shoot the breeze at the Mountain Market for over an hour with great conversation about snowmobiling and grooming.

My takeaways:

Grooming is about as much “feel” as it is technique or science. It took me a little while to get the hang of holding the drag lift controller and steering the Skandic at the same time. I shifted around quite a bit in the seat to get the best feel and balance, as opposed to just sitting down. I looked back quite a bit at the beginning, but then I began to trust my rear view mirrors more.

I can tell you these machines take a ton of pounding. It’s pretty amazing these machines don’t break down more often than they do. We’ve all seen the pictures of the broken down groomer on the side of the trail. These breakdowns are a probably result of cumulative trauma, instead of a single hit.

Grooming is the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Much work goes into securing land owner permission, fund raising, equipment repair, brushing and “off-season” trail work. I’ve been involved in various trail work projects over the years to know that’s hard work, but also very rewarding. Snowmobiling is truly a 12 month sport, in which we get to enjoy the fruits of it for 2-3 months, perhaps 4 months for the diehards.

Finally:

Join clubs wherever you ride. Be proactive in finding ways to work in your club. If you cannot do that, donate above and beyond your club dues. They will appreciate the money.

Most clubs need groomer operators, especially those who can groom regularly. Even if you can only do one day or night a week, just having someone that a club can rely on for that day or night each week is golden.

I highly recommend D.R.A.G. of Speculator because they are totally dedicated to grooming and have revitalized the snowmobiling culture around Speculator. But like I said before, join clubs where you ride. Click the following link to join a club online.

Before the start of next winter, don’t wait until the snow flies to renew your club membership and registration renewal. The sooner you get it done, the sooner your clubs get their needed money!

For the ilsnow nation,

Darrin

Comments welcomed!

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