Riding powder is what most snowmobilers dream of, but snow conditions change almost daily throughout the season, making true ‘champagne’ powder hard to find.
When they do find it, however, riders who don't often ride in deep, soft snow will realize it presents its own unique set of challenges in sled setup and riding technique. Riding in powder is more physically demanding of both the rider and the snowmobile. If you're new to riding, or moving to an area where powder riding is more common, consider these modifications to your snowmobile to make carving through the powder easier and more fun.
A whole new sled
This isn't an option for some riders, but if it's time to update anyway, most of the current ‘mountain’ sleds available from manufacturers will handle powder quite well in stock form. A longer track and more horsepower are the two biggest benefits, but ski stance, gearing and clutching also can be tweaked to make what you’ve got perform better.
Big wheel kit
Big wheel kits help reduce the rolling resistance of the track and are a good idea for any type of snowmobile. When the track starts to ratchet, a big wheel kit can eliminate slippage without requiring you to tighten the track — this increases rolling resistance and robs power from the sled.
Riders often remove the outer wheels and install a big-wheel kit with the wheels to the inside of the track, which allows the sled to carve through the deep, soft snow better, or ride across sidehills — at the cost of making the sled a little easier to tip, however. Removing the outer wheel allows the track to roll over at the edges, giving the rider more ability to carve.
Most big wheel kits are made from billet, lighter than stock, and some are designed to add a boost to the sled's appearance, with eye-catching designs, anodizing and powdercoating.
Anti ratchet sprocket
Tight tracks rob horsepower. Along with the big-wheel kit, an anti-ratchet sprocket allows the rider to loosen the track without it ratcheting, or skipping, letting the track ‘flow’ around the idlers much more easily.
There are quite a few kits available, but choosing the right size is more involved than simply selecting the biggest drivers available.
“Tracks act like conveyor belts, carrying snow and air to the front of the tunnel,” states Avid-Products on its website. “If there isn’t anywhere for this air and snow to go, it piles up in the front and slows the track down. Unless you have a lot of room up front, it will be better for you to use the smaller driver.”
Left side throttle
When riding in steep mountains or deep powder, the rider needs to move around on the snowmobile even more than when riding groomed trails. If that puts the rider on the left side of the sled, it's awkward to reach the throttle, or even impossible for shorter riders.
The answer to this problem is a simple kit to install a throttle on the left side handlebar. Kits like Lefty's Side Hiller-2 Dual Throttle Control or Full Throttle, Inc.'s Goldfinger Left Side Throttle are universal and easy to install, giving the rider a fully functional throttle at the left grip. Compared to many snowmobile add-ons, the left side throttle is relatively inexpensive and can go a long way toward giving a rider more control.
Mountain bar and bar risers
Boondocking and powder riding requires riders to stand up a lot more than they would on groomed trails. This changes everything about the rider compartment—especially the handlebars. Bars designed for trail riding are lower, and powder riders will find themselves hunched over while standing up.
Mountain-specific handlebars are taller and usually incorporate a hard bar or soft strap across the middle, giving the rider a better handle to hold when leaning the sled over to carve through powder. Available in different bends and rises, there are enough different designs to allow you to find the perfect fit for your riding style.
There are three measurements to consider when shopping for bars: the width, rise and sweep, or pullback. Width and rise are self-explanatory; the sweep is the distance from the tip of the bar to the center. Rotating the bars in the mounting clamps allows additional fine-tuning to the set up of the rider compartment.
Handlebar risers are another way to position the handlebars to achieve a comfortable, controlled riding position. Available in a wide variety of designs, from simple blocks to pivoting mounts, some bar risers are designed to allow the rider to use a dirt-bike style handlebar, which some riders prefer.
Just like the tires on a car, the type of skis you choose can have an enormous impact on handling. For powder riding, flotation is important for the best handling performance. A powder ski will create flotation, which improves front-end lift, in order to reduce drag on other components under the sled. Powder skis feature keel and sidewall designs specific to soft, deep snow conditions, which decreases the rider’s steering effort while increasing the snowmobile’s ability to accelerate and turn in powder.
The track is one of the most important components of setting up a snowmobile for any condition. While each rider will have a favorite track, some will bring more advantage in powder conditions than others. There are several factors at play in a track’s design.
Pitch is the distance between the paddles and windows on a track. A three-inch pitch will increase the snowmobile’s overall performance, and decrease its weight.
Weight is always key: the less, the better. Not only will a lighter track make the snowmobile handle better in soft snow, but it will also boost acceleration and braking by decreasing the track’s rotating mass.
Avid-Products notes, “A track with a 3” pitch will weigh less than a 2.52” pitch track of equal length. An old rule of thumb is that every pound of rotating mass you remove is equal to reducing your sled’s gross weight by 7 pounds. Putting a 5-6 pound lighter track on your sled will increase track speed.”
The depth of the lugs affects how well the sled bites into the snow. Industry leader Camoplast offers a selection of tracks built specifically for deep powder. Most feature a wider pitch and deeper lugs that are specially designed to trap snow beneath the track for more flotation, as well as actually flatten out, which also increases flotation.
Riding in powder demands more of both rider and sled. Adding performance accessories to your engine — whether it’s big-bore kits, high-performance cylinder heads, exhaust systems or any of the other myriad of products available, will give you the power you need to attack the powder.
Perhaps even more important than adding horsepower, losing weight will free up more of your sled’s existing power to put to the snow. Lightweight components for every part of the snowmobile are available, if pricey, but will go a long way toward real-world results. Aftermarket exhaust kits are one of the biggest ways to drop pounds from a snowmobile, but lightweight seats, hoods, suspension components and much more will also lighten the snowmobile significantly.
Riding in powder is one of the things all snowmobilers should experience at some point in their lives, even if it’s not a condition found in their normal everyday riding. A properly set-up snowmobile will increase the fun factor, and most of the modifications will increase the sled’s performance in all conditions.