Grooming Snowmobiles – Cross Country Skier, Oct 1 2010, Eric Anderson
Minimum requirements: 2-speed hi/low transmission. Just about any machine will pull the standard roller. Grooming requires more power to pull due to the knives that dig into the snow to rebuild the surface prior to compaction.
2019+ SkiDoo Rev Gen4 Chassis – Expedition and Skandic Snowmobiles
November 2022, I bought a 2022 Expedition 900 ACE SE WT so that I could learn how to run the wiring through the chassis. My local ski club, Black Mountain Nordic, also purchased two new 2023 Skandic 900 ACE SWT’s about the same time.
Grooming Experience over the Nov 2022 to May 2023 season:
- Our trails are at 8000-8500 ft in the Bighorn Mountains which has very similar snow to the Rocky Mountains from Colorado through Alberta, Canada. Our snow is fluffier and drier than what you’d see in the Sierra Nevada mountains, Michigan/Wisconsin/Minnesota, or in the Northeast of the USA. We ended the 2023 season with a 60″ base on our trails and it was melting fast. Last grooming was late April 2023. We typically stop grooming in the middle of March due to warm conditions and melting snow.
- Uses less than 1/2 the fuel of our CanAm 1000 Outlander ATV’s. These sleds hold 9.5 gallons of fuel. They only require 2-2.5 gallons of fuel to run a 2-3 hour grooming session. The ATV holds 5.4 gallons and is almost empty after grooming.
- The sleds pull either an 84″ Ginzugroomer or an ERoller. We use the ATV to pull our 96″ Ginzugroomer. The ATV has more pull than the sled and the GZ96 is heavier than the GZ84. The snowmobile would work well to pull a GZ96 in less fluffy conditions.
- Overheating? The jury is out on whether they really have overheating problems. We had one Skandic that overheated, but it was pulling a drag and ridden by one of our groomers that is relatively new to grooming. Our experienced operators have not seen the problem. Bridger Ski Foundation has overheating problems, but they typically groom flat, hard snow. They’ve added ice scratchers to help get snow up to the heat exchanger. The most experienced groomer in the Nordic community recommends scratchers and to stop on them once in a while in icy conditions to get a little snow tossed around in the tunnel. My conclusion is that SkiDoo could have improved the design, but it is a great solid machine to use for grooming.
- Reliability – My club has had a lot of reliability problems with the CanAm ATV’s. We have one at each of our trail systems which are within 1 mile of each other. The engine and exhaust give off a lot of heat which melts plastic body panels and the rear brake master cylinder. We’ve stripped a driveline and ground a transmission to little bits. Around $7000 was spent repairing one of them a few years ago. If the operator isn’t paying attention, they can overheat the drive belt which tears it apart. We think they really aren’t built strong enough for grooming. However, they pull very hard and are difficult to get stuck. Since our other snowmobiles have been much more reliable, we decided to buy new Skandic 900 ACE SWT’s for the 2022/23 season. They’ve not yet had a mechanical issue. I think they both have 300-400 miles after one season.
- Deep snow – My preferred deep snow grooming machine is a snowmobile. It will get up on top of any depth of snow. The ATV can do it but it is a difficult pull and feels like it is working very hard.
- Gooseneck Hitch Installation
- This chassis has a plastic Linq plate in the cargo deck. The heat exchanger is underneath and covers the full length of the tunnel. For WT sleds with a 20″ track, the heat exchanger is almost the full width of the tunnel. SkiDoo recommends keeping the Linq plate installed so that the airflow on top of the tunnel is unaffected.
- For that reason, we recommend mounting the gooseneck hitch plate directly to the Linq plate.
- Make sure that any wiring you put in the battery box still allows the battery box to be removed. The box is easy to remove with two simple screws on the inside, but anything poking out the side will get in the way of removing the box. The box must be removed when replacing the battery. Also be aware that the factory winch contactor system takes up most of the battery box.
- Most customers will use the heavy duty 30A YTS momentary reversing switches. You can mount the switches on the panel below the left hand grip, or build a plate for the switches that mounts to the top of the handlebar riser. For the latter option, run the wires down through the front side of the riser. Remove the left side panel so you can see to route the wires along the top of the engine (away from the exhaust side) and just under the angled frame on the left side. The wire will come to the outside of the frame for a short run to the battery box. I’ll add photos later.
- I am developing an actuator control system that will eventually have multi-channel remote control features. I hope to distribute a few prototypes to strategic customers for the 2023/24 season.
Other Snow Grooming Machines
- Polaris Titan
This is the only snowmobile that meets the Buy America requirement. This may be the only choice for USFS and other federal agencies.
- 2-Stroke – One customer says “It is as bad if not worse than the Yamaha we had years ago. It is two stroke so needs to be run at high RPM, has little torque compared to four stroke, overheats at low speed pulling the Ginzu in softer snow or breaking crystalized snow.”
- 4-Stroke – One of YTS’s most experienced customers bought a 4-stroke Titan this season, but it had not arrived by the end of their season. He will send me a review as soon as he’s used it.
- Honda Pioneer 1000
- DCT transmission just might be the perfect UTV for grooming. It is too new on the market to know if it is going to be reliable.
- Polaris Ranger
- Very reliable and robust.
- Yamaha Grizzly
- 2024 CanAm Outlander Pro
- Improved the front driveline design which should make it very reliable. I haven’t seen one yet.
Before November 22, 2023
(I will revise or eliminate this section later – DWH)
Skidoo Expedition SE – We (ABR Trails) order the 20-inch track SE for grooming w the 900 Ace. The SE has an air shock on the rear similar to the grand touring model. The air shock lets you air up the rear end for a stiff back and very good steering. We order the ice cobra pre-studded track. This model comes standard with a winch. The SE also comes in a turbo model which has approximately 165 HP, way more than needed but it is fun for trail riding and rescues. The gearing in the turbo is not as low as the standard SE. Ok that is the good news…here is the bad news, these are special spring order sleds so you need to plan ahead and they are about $13-14k.
SkiDoo Skandic SWT 900 ACE – 24″ track! Many very experienced customers consider the Skandic SWT the only choice for their primary grooming sleds. One of our very experienced customers with a new 2019 Skandic says it doesn’t turn well. It needs added weight on the front bumper to help it turn.
2019+ Skidoo Expedition SWT – 24″ track! This one looks promising. I saw it in the dealer showroom where it was being prepared for a ranch customer to groom his private trails. His was setup with the 1 1/4 receivers front and back and a winch in a bracket on the side. It looked like a great groomer. I’m sure it had a more plush ride than the Skandic, though when you are grooming at 10 mph I don’t know how important that is. Skidoo says the 900 ACE engine will get 21 mpg. Our old 2-stroke Skandic 550 fan probably didn’t do much better than 5 mpg towing a groomer. TBD – Field reports from experienced groomers.
Arctic Cat Bearcat 7000 XT GS (groomer special) – this is the first machine that I am aware of that was designed specifically for grooming. It can be ordered with the gooseneck plate with a 1 7/8″ ball that works well with the YTS gooseneck hitch that is an option for ginzugroomers. It also comes pre-wired from handlebars to a connector on the back of the seat. YTS can supply the wiring harness to fit the Bearcat. The GS was discontinued by Arctic Cat for the 2019 season. However – all is not lost! Keep your eye on this page. It is very likely that a well-connected dealer will add the grooming features to a 7000 XT to create an improved version of the GS. The features that make a 7000 XT into a GS are the light bar, the grooming switches and wiring, and the HD front bumper with the optional winch. YTS will offer an improved gooseneck hitch mount designed specifically for the 7000 XT GS. One of our professional grooming customers says the Bearcat will pull all day at 1 mph without overheating.
Update: We (ABR Trails) still use the Bearcat Groomer specials as well, which are needed for pulling the 108 Ginzu. We have 4 x 4 spacer blocks in the rear suspension to take the sag out for pulling heavy. The problem seems to be that theses groomer specials or 7000 models have not been available over the past 2 years.
2017+ Yamaha VK540 – 20 x 154 track, 2 speed transmission, proven 2-cycle 540cc engine. This is the lowest cost new grooming sled available and is very likely to be reliable and trustworthy for many years. After many years off the market, it was brought back in 2017 due to demand for a machine that can be pull started at -40F in the frozen remote areas of Siberia. It is essentially a snow truck. Long romantic two person trips are not the primary purpose of this machine!
Yamaha VK Professional – 3-cylinder 1049cc water cooled 4-stroke with a 20″ track. This is a heavy duty 900 lb machine. Our club has two of them. They run well and tend to be very reliable. See my other discussion here.
Polaris Voyager – Though it only has a single speed transmission, the Voyager is geared quite low and makes an excellent groomer. It has an articulated rear track section that improves its backup capability.
Lockwood Electro Motive – This groomer is in the beta test phase at Seeley Lake, MT. It was designed specifically to groom single-track fat bike snow trails (26″ flat and consistently firm base with packed rounded berms). It should be available in the summer of 2019. Quick Facts: 24HP 3-phase AC motor & controller, twist grip throttle, lithium-ion batteries sufficient for a 6 hour run time, low center of gravity, practically unlimited torque with amazing traction, battery charge gauge, and status display, quiet. The designer claims that this groomer has never been stuck! This is the ultimate ready-to-go maintenance-free groomer.
Polaris Ranger XP 900/1000 – Large, powerful machine. Fuel-injected. Strafford Nordic, one of the YTS dealers, is very pleased with their older Ranger. They replaced the transmission once but it has otherwise been very reliable. Even when carrying a passenger, it has more pull strength than any snowmobile. They pull a 108″ Ginzugroomer with it all the time. Pricing will be near $20k or more with tracks.
Kubota RTV-X900/1100C/1120 – Quite possibly the most rugged and durable UTV available. Pricing will be near $30k with tracks. It is the perfect machine if (1) you can afford it, and (2) are in a lower elevation. The engine is 24.8 HP naturally aspirated diesel which will not have enough power to pull a groomer at 8000 ft. There’s a company in Colorado that will install a turbo kit that should help it in the higher elevations.
CanAm Outlander 1000 – avoid for mountain trail systems. Our club has two of these ATVs. They pull hard and are difficult to get stuck. Problems? 2020/21 season, our club spent about $7000 in repairs on one of our ATVs. In deep fresh spring snow when we are trying to knock down the snow without any groomer attached, this machine just isn’t durable enough. We’ve stripped a front driveshaft spline, blew out the transmission, cracked a plastic coolant connector, and have fought excess exhaust heat continuously. The exhaust heat melts the rear brake master cylinder. We’ve relocated the master cylinder and will hope that solves the problems.
Yamaha Grizzly – very popular and also has been reliable for at least one customer that has over 100k of Nordic trails.
Honda Pioneer – the specs and what little I gathered from talking with a Honda sales rep show this to be a promising machine. It has a better transmission for grooming than most. TBD – need a review from a groomer!