Adding a sled to your garage can open world of possibility, fun and adventure. It also means a whole mess of gear, decision making and money pitfalls. Here is what we’ve chosen to run for the 2015 season including rack, home built “sled deck” (with ski storage) mods (lack thereof) and more… If you are curious about sled access skiing – start here.
Snowmobile access skiing is a polarizing topic. On one hand, the modern 2 stroke mountain sled is an amazing piece of technology that can open an entire world of possibility (and fun) to anyone with an appetite for adventure. If you think about it – there isn’t a motorized vehicle available to the public that can travel through as extreme of terrain as a mountain sled. On the other hand, they are dirty, smelly, loud, expensive and prone to breakage. Certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. But this isn’t a “pros” and “cons” of sled access skiing article. This is a multipart piece for those looking to get into sled access skiing – or just curious about it.
Before I get into this – I’m not a good sledder guy. I’ve already totaled one sled and gone for a “long walk” when I was stuck somewhere I had no business being. To say I know just enough to be dangerous is an understatement and my riding ability is very much “mediocre”. So in a way you are about to listen to a rant by the equivalent of that fanny pack wearing fat guy at the gym telling you “hey bud, I watched you do that deadlift, if you just push your butt out a bit more it’ll really help your glutes fire” – Yeah, gotcha bro – when I decide I want to be a fat man in sweats I’ll come pick your brain…
That said, I’ve still learned a lot in my short time with a few different sleds and as a total gear nerd and pretend-writer, thought I’d publish what I’ve learned thus far…
- Make Friends: You having a sled by yourself is about the same as owning a beacon by yourself. You need buddies that’ll help teach you to ride, dig you out and heckle the shit out of you. Don’t shy away from the real sledneck types. Chances are good they are good at riding – and nice knowledgeable dudes to boot. They’ll just call you a sissy for skiing. Get used to it.
- Leave Skis Behind: No matter how talented you may be at skiing, bike riding, surfing, weight lifting etc etc you will suck at sledding. Spend time without ski boots on to really learn how to ride the machine (just don’t “Dan Treadway it” – put the ski boots back on one day 😉 )
- Be Prepared. For Real. BC Skiing is an environment you should go into prepared with the correct safety equipment nearly all Earlyups readers are aware of (and use on a daily/weekly basis). That said, we all likely skimp on our just-in-case kits due to packability and weight. With a sled, this is far less an issue. Radios, SPOT beacons, GPS, bivvy sacks, comprehensive first aid kits, well thought out tool kits etc are no longer a “if I have room” but a requirement.
- Just Cause It Has a Motor… Just cause the sled has a powerful 2 stroke motor does not mean its some magic carpet for the backcountry. So often I see skiers buy a sled with intention of splitting it among a group of friends and clown car around to zones. This will result in some major headaches, blown belts and a whole lot of being stuck. If every person in your crew can’t afford a sled – don’t plan on “teaming up” on the purchase. You’ll be miserable.
- Get to know your machine: Whatever you own/buy get to know it. Carry a spare belt, spare spark plugs. Know how to change them and keep the machine in good working order. If something sounds/feels wrong, stop riding and take a look. Take time settuping up your clutching and suspension. If this all seems too much – owning a sled is probably not your thing.
- Vocabulary: Sledding brings forth an entirely new vernacular. You have a choice. Act holier than thou as a skier or embrace it. I suggest you embrace it. Start with my cheat sheet:
- Crick vs creek vs stream vs river: These are all different. Cricks are often crossable. Creeks sometimes. Streams usually involve you getting wet. Rivers are…umm…not
- Give Her The Onion: This means hold the throttle to the bar and hope for the best. “Yeah, you got it dude, just give her the onion!!”
- Hold my beer while I ____: This means “turn your camera on” cause something amazingly stupid/awesome is about to happen.
- Hairdryer: This is a turbo. If you find yourself around a lot of these be prepared for some amazing antics and/or reliability headaches.
- Beer: This means Bud Heavy
- 2 Stroke Headache: Headache from breathing fumes all day. Usually happens when you are stuck and you “give her the onion” multiple times in a day.
- Ditch Pickle: Any Arctic Cat as they seem to love being in ditches and are green.
- Where can I get gas?: This means non-ethanol 91+ octane gas. Most towns have only one or two spots that are non ethanol. You’ll want to figure this out for the longevity of your motor.
Sled: Pro RMK 800 163
The Polaris Pro RMK is going into its 6th year in existence and has been one of the most well received mountain sleds in stock form. The chassis is stiff, responsive, and is the lightest of the three brands (Ski-Doo, YahaCat and Polaris). Thought the sled may be a bit shy on power compared to the competition, the lighter weight helps makes this a non-issue.
Truth is all 3 major manufactures make a kick ass machine these days. Anyone who says otherwise is probably a very serious sledder – and very serious sledders are into brand affiliation more than even your “Dodge” vs “Chevy” vs “Ford” guys often found in the midwest. Having ridden all three sleds I can say they are all very good – and very different.
I went with the 163″ track as I’m looking for as much float out here as possible – especially while tandeming. Compared to the shorter 155″ track I really don’t notice much of a differnce – both in float and in how it performs in tighter terrain. Really, we’re only talking about 5% so this should be expected for a relatively new rider like myself.
The sled needed little in the way of modifications to be ready for the mountains. I’ve added tunnel stiffeners via Kurts Polaris and will likely gear down the belt drive in the near future as the stock gearing is a bit high for the motor. Beyond that maybe I’ll add a bumper, maybe a 3″ track – we’ll see. Being the sled is a bit on the anemic side – and we are utilizing it for skiing – it’d sure be nice to find an additional 20-30 horsepower. But this isn’t going to happen this side of a turbo and/or a lot of sacrifice to the pull & go nature of a stock sled.
We’ll follow our sled setup a bit in a subsequent piece.
Rack: CFR iRack
We’ve built our own rack in the past and though they work, they are also a bit of a mess. The CFR rack is light, carries other gear (besides skis) in the basket, low profile and utilizes the exiting Pro mounting channels. The load is fairly well distributed and some have argued the rack itself actually helps stiffen the tunnel. Homemade racks usually require drilling into the tunnel which would be a problem with the large coolers in the rear of the Pro. Getting to your destination deep within the backcountry to find your skis fell off a few miles back sucks bad. We’ll offer a full review of this rack alongside a few homemade options for other sleds in the future but the CFR is really no-brainer when picking up a $12K toy.
- Ski Pow: DPS Lotus 138 Few skis deal with backcountry mid-winter funk (or awesomeness) better than the 138. Crusts, wind effect, heavy snow – whatever, the 138 is one of the best with respect to soft snow versatility. Its light, stiff and yeah, sucks in non-virgin snow – but you know what had better not exist in sled skiing land? Tracks.
- Ski Not-Deep-Pow: 4Frnt Hoji In a way, this ski is like a mini 138. Its reverse camber and deals with the tricky conditions often found in the backcountry extremely well – just at a more manageable waist width. I have this ski mounted with a G3 Ion – something we’ll offer a full review on soon.
- Binding: Dynafit Beast 14 I can handle a bit more weight in the name of safety when sled skiing. Plus, flat approaches are more or less gone in sled ski world, so the lack of flat tour mode doesn’t matter.
- Shoe: Dynafit Vulcan w/ZipFit The Vulcan has an awesome sole and the greatest ROM of any “freeride touring boot” on the market. Plus, when the tongues are pulled you can ride your sled like you have snowboard boots. A plus for neckin’.
- Skins: BD Ascension The Mohair blend version is lighter but with the reverse camber nature of the 138 I need all the grip I can get.
- Pack: ABS Vario 30L An airbag should honestly come with a sled. Considering how much more you are “at risk” and how much further you can get away from the “beatin’ path” (in no time)
- Radio: BCA Link This is probably the most essential bit to a sledder “kit”. A good radio is not only 1000x safer but saves you a whole bunch of 4 letter words when you get stuck and nobody is around you…
Hauling a sled around is a giant pain in the ass. Trailering anything in the winter sucks and sled decks are expensive.
Thankfully I do have a pickup. But I also am carrying a few pairs of skis/random gear at any given moment. So I’ve got two options:
- Put my sled in the back of the bed, risk my skis getting swiped as they’ll be in the open for the taking and cram my cab full of gear or;
- Build a “ghetto deck”.
What is “ghetto deck”? Its the ugliest one sled, sled-deck you’ve ever seen. 3/4″ plywood and a few hinges. I actually already had it built for summertime adventures as a sleeping platform/subfloor (for use with a topper) but had to extend it the length of the tailgate this winter. The awesome part is yes, it locks and yes all my skis easily fit underneath as well as other stuff – such as fly rods, guns, recovery gear etc.
Building it was fairly simple. Its a 1/2″ plywood “footprint” (that was cut around the wheel wells) with 3/4″ plywood fastened as stringers to support the top piece of plywood – again 3/4″ – that acts as the deck. The tailgate portion has a “shim” underneath to keep from overly stressing the far side of the deck when loading (it would want to bow). I added ski runners to keep the carbides from gauging the plywood too badly and sealed it best I could utilizing an oil based paint. I also added a “don’t bust my back window” piece of plywood that I flip up when loading my sled. Realize I only utilize this setup around town and don’t drive any further than an hours drive. Truth is, its probably not the most safe – mostly in the event of an accident causing the sled to come through into the cab. But I’ve done a few things to mitigate this best I could…truth is wrecking your shit with a sled in the back is bad news for a bunch of reasons. Maybe if Earlyups ever makes money I can afford a new truck and a real sled deck… 😉
Word of caution – don’t exceed your GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating). I’m close but still shy by about 200 pounds. My truck can easily handle a lot more gear than its rated for – but don’t push it. Look it up in your owners manual, especially if you don’t have a real 1/2 ton or 3/4 ton and plan on adding a sled deck… The popo doesn’t look kindly on wrecking your shit that was overloaded…
Other Gear & Suggestions
Riding a sled can make large expanses of terrain feel a whole lot smaller…until they break down. Yes, despite how “good” the modern fuel injected 2 stroke sled has become, there is still a (high) probility of a breakdown at some point in the season. With this in mind, here is a smattering of emergency gear and tricks we’ve picked up…
- Goal Zero (or similar) battery pack – you can use this little battery charger unit to juice up your phone/radio etc in the field.
- GPS – For those wondering, there is an awesome app called Gaia that kicks some serious ass for sledding. Its $19.99 but has replaced my need for a stand alone GPS unit – and it works in airplane mode, you can download topo maps ahead of time etc.
- Emergency Gear: Waterproof matches, Tampon (dip in gas tank – start fire), Bivy Sack, Waterproof bags, parachute cord
- Tool kit – Sled dependent – two adjustable wrenches, allen keys, torx, zip ties, duct tape, titan straps, hose clamps, Metal Container – You can melt snow this way – unlike a plastic container.
- Tow Straps
- Extra belt (extra QD belt if you are a polaris guy)
- Spark plugs
- Recharable Night Light – There are a bunch of good ones out there – we suggest one that utilizes a GoPro attachment.
Finally, one last bit of advice. Insure your sled. Jeff may not be proud of it but this is sled numero dose on the year. Bowling for trees on a sled is not a sport I have the bank roll to keep partaking in…
Now go have fun! We’ll follow this with additional tips, tricks, setup suggestions and more as time goes on…