Trail groomers are big (expensive!) machines that have tremendous capability to power through and over deep snow that would swallow any other vehicle — well, except for a snowmobile. Over the past few years, I’ve become more interested and intrigued by trail grooming equipment.
I climbed behind the controls of my snowmobile club’s Pisten Bully 100 for a few hours last winter and smoothed out some of our trails. With my good friend Keith Gutzwiller, who is one of our club’s groomer operators, riding shotgun, I was excited and nervous running the controls of this big red machine that has more flashing orange beacons and bright flood lights than a UFO. I learned that there’s a lot a groomer operator has to keep in check, otherwise he can screw up the trails, get stuck or worse.
Driving at the correct speed is important so that the drag can do its work. Drive too fast and the drag won’t have time to pack the snow into a smooth path. Move too slowly and you’re wasting time and fuel. You also have to control the height of the drag so it smoothes the moguls. Take too shallow of a cut and the trail will still be rough after you make a pass; cut too deep and you’ll over-work the machine and maybe get stuck. Keith told me to set the front of the drag down so it barely cuts into the snowpack. And then there are road crossings ….
Correct timing of when to raise the drag is important in order to leave a smooth transition from the trail surface to the road while not dragging snow out onto the roadway. Reach the other shoulder and again good timing is important in order to make another smooth transition.
Rolling across a cornfield, I accidentally let the PB’s track on the passenger-side drift a little off the beaten path, and we almost got stuck. Fortunately, with Keith’s expertise, he was able to coach me through what could have become a heckuva predicament. We rolled on.
Hanging off the front of the 10,000-pound groomer is a blade that can be manipulated in eight different directions. I used it to cut down 3-foot berms that had formed in some of the corners after sleds had ripped through the turns. Just like the drag, it’s important to set the blade right so it cuts deep enough to do the work, but not so deep that it lugs down the tractor while the drag is still doing its work simultaneously. While the blade is an important tool to build smooth trails, I learned that most of the work is done by the drag.
Here is some information and links to more information about snow grooming equipment:
Pisten Bully has German roots and its first groomer was built in 1969. The PB 100 was introduced in 1999 and it’s since been replaced by the Trail Bully model. Pisten Bullys have one endless track on each side.
Tucker Terra Sno-Cat groomers have four, all-rubber tracks that the company says makes its orange rigs more maneuverable than two-track systems. The company is based in Medford, Oregon.
With one continuous track on each side of the cab, Prinoth groomers, based out of Italy, are similar to Pisten Bully equipment. Prinoth took over Bombardier’s trail grooming division in 2005.
Many snowmobile clubs operate tractors from John Deere, Kubota, Case, New Holland and others that are outfitted with special track systems from companies like Soucy, Camoplast and Mattracks. These systems run upwards of $40,000 and they make those heavy machines into surprisingly capable snow groomers.