1-7-17: To groom or not to groom?
The riding and conditions in this part of the state are tough right now. There is snow and cold (for now) however there is not enough. In Stoddard, we need more snow than most in order for us to groom without damaging equipment. Due to our rough terrain, our trails need lots of white gold to cover the rocks, washouts, and steep hills. For those who are not in the know, I would like to give you an overview of what constitutes when we groom or not. I will lay this criterion out and briefly explain how this affects our decision to groom or not.
1. Snow consistency: Not all snow is created equal. High amounts of powder snow do not make a good base. In short, 12” of fresh powder will compact to 2” of groomed snow. Heavy, wet snow followed by cold weather is ideal. 12” of wet snow will compact to 6” of concrete base. When you add the cold, this will freeze up and make a smooth bae to build off of. The ideal conditions are a dumping of wet snow followed by cold and smaller storms of powder.
2. Snow cover: In Stoddard, we need 12-18” of good snow on the ground to consistently groom and keep the trails smooth. Low snow cover will A) damage the drag, the groomer, and cause damage to the trail and B) make the trail venerable for a melt off if it gets warm. Neighboring clubs have groomed with low snow base. The result is after 1-2 days, the trails are dirt and the base is gone. When landowners see tracks digging into their trails, they tend to call and ask why people are riding without adequate snow cover. Low snow riding will damage your snowmobile. I have yet to understand the tradeoff. I would rather have the trails a little rough and ridable than down to dirt and closed.
3. Temperature: The ideal temps are from 20 degrees to zero. The colder the temps, the more the snow moves through the drag and the trail sets up faster. Grooming from 20 degrees on does not bode well for the process. The snow does not move through the drag blades well and it takes a very long time to set up (over four hours after the groomer goes through). A “set up” trail means that the trail is frozen and solid. A freshly groomed trail is nice to ride but is usually very soft. Heavy traffic will destroy a groomed trail in minutes. This is especially true when it is warmer.
4. Time of day: Night time is the right time to groom. Day grooming is useless and dangerous. As a county advisor, I often chastise clubs who day groom in Cheshire county. It is a waste of time, it is a waste of YOUR registration money, and it puts riders and groomer operators at risk of collisions. As I mentioned above, a freshly groomed trail is soft. If a groomed trail sees 20 sleds in an hour after a groomer goes through, the trail turns into mashed potatoes and becomes rough, difficult to steer in, and erodes the base. I will further state that week day grooming at night is the best scenario. This means a long night for those who groom. You start out at 7:00 and usually do not get through until midnight. Your groomer is lit up, everyone can see you, you can see snowmobiles coming your way (headlights) and the temps are colder. There is also low traffic giving the trail more time to set up.
5. Groomer operators: This is a big factor. Glenn and I are currently the only certified groomer operators who are with the club. We had two younger men who trained and did some grooming a few years ago, however one moved away and the other has not joined the club. You have to be certified and a club member in order to be covered under our insurance. These are also volunteer positions. There is no pay. All the grooming reimbursement goes to fuel and the club that helps pay for insurance and repairs to the fleet. As I stated, grooming is done at night, during the week. Glenn and I work full time and have obligations some nights so we are not always available to groom if a trail needs it. You also need to have 50 gallons of fuel ready to run our Tucker. It takes 40 gallons to make one run on the western side of the trail system. So, before you go, you have to get to the gas station to fuel up, bring the cans to the Tucker, and then fill the machine. This is an hour-long task usually done the night before.
6. Future weather conditions: If it looks like there is going to be a big warm up during the week, we will leave the trails as they are after the weekend. Warm weather patterns will ruin a trail that is groomed over and over. At least with snow cover, the base will be insulated.
7. Snow consistency: There are limits to how much you can groom existing snow without getting fresh stuff to replace it. Part of the grooming process involves “working the snow” so it “heats up” as it passes through the blades and is compacted by the pan. If there is a prolonged period of cold without snow and trails are groomed over and over, the snow turns to ice crystals that will no longer pack. This is rare, but I have experienced it here. There is nothing you can do with ice crystals.
8. Grooming machine breakdowns: These happen to all clubs. We fix our own equipment here to save on massive repair bills. Some of these repairs could take several days to complete depending on parts, available time, and mechanics to fix these machines. There are no groomer mechanics that the average club can afford. If you are a mechanic and wish to help us fix broken equipment, do not hesitate to call us.
I wanted to put this on the website to showcase that we are not too lazy or unwilling to groom. There are many factors to lead to the decision of going out on a cold night. We take the task very seriously. Grooming is not a party ride or a comfortable experience for the Rockhoppers. Our machines are old, noisy, rattle your teeth, and cramped. However, they do the job and it is what we can afford.
We are always looking for new groomer operators. If this interests you, then please contact us!