The Best Grooming Machines: Selecting a Snowmobile

Face it – the modern snowmobile is not optimally designed to pull a trail-grooming implement. But, in general, it is probably the best machine available for the money. Some of our customers have been using ATV machines with various combinations of tracks and low-pressure tires, but these have limitations, too. One trap that many trail groomers have fallen into in the past is getting excited about some new whiz bang machine that may indeed be better suited to pulling, but doesn’t have the market support to become a stable product with available parts and people who know how to fix them when they eventually break. Just look in any veteran trail groomer’s barn to see examples of this. So even though the modern snowmobile is designed to go 50-90 mph, has very poor low-end torque, stinks, is noisy, and can be hard to turn (see our New Products section for a better turning solution) it still gets our vote as the most cost effective “tractor”. Here are some things to consider when looking for a snowmobile to pull your grooming implement:

In general, you want the most power and lowest gear ratio you can get. Features that will make ski trail grooming easier include a gearbox with a low range, reverse gear, heavy-duty hitch and grip/thumb warmers.

Implements like our Packer/Tracker and Roller can be pulled with just about any size snowmobile on most terrain (extremely steep may require a larger snowmobile). Our four-foot Trail Tenderizer can be pulled by a medium size snowmobile on moderate terrain (steep terrain will require a large work/utility snowmobile). Our six foot Trail Tenderizers will require a large work/utility snowmobile.

Ok, now I am going to make some snowmobile dealers mad: Because of the low operating speed at which you will be grooming, you ABSOLUTELY DO NOT WANT A LIQUID COOLED SNOWMOBILE. Unfortunately for those of us grooming ski trails, these have become popular in the last few years with the mainstream snowmobile market, and for good reason: At normal operating speeds (15 mph and above) these liquid cooled machines provide more horsepower, are quieter, and last longer due to more even temperature distribution than the traditional fan cooled machine. However, they rely on a spray of snow from the track upon a heat exchanger. At the very low operating speeds that ski trail-grooming demands (5-10 mph), this spray of snow does not occur. When you don’t have the snow to cool the heat exchanger, the liquid cooled machine over heats in very short order. Please don’t let a dealer talk you into buying a liquid cooled snowmobile. We have not heard of a model yet that works well grooming ski trails. If you are stuck with an LC machine, some techniques that will help you get by include packing your foot beds with snow (there are usually heat exchangers under them), unhitching when you overheat and zipping around the meadow at high speed, and keeping your pulling load at a minimum (less aggressive tooth depth).

As far as recommending specific new snowmobile brands and models, the Ski Doo Skandic (Wide Track or Super Wide Track) is by far the most popular new work/utility machine with our customers. A few of our customers have the Yamaha VK540, also with good feedback. There is a now a very large double track machine called the Alpina being distributed in the US, and we would love to hear from customers that have had success with this or any other pulling machine. We base our recommendations purely on the feedback we get from our customers out there grooming trails and have absolutely no affiliation with a particular brand.

One final tip for anyone considering buying a new utility/work snowmobile: The market is miniscule for these units. A typical dealer may only sell one or two of these in a season. Go in early and reserve what you want, or you may be disappointed. You are very unlikely to walk in and find one of these machines on a showroom floor.