No question about it, every area has uses for small vehicles. This guide can help you make sure you’re getting the best little (or not-so-little) machine for your needs.
Snowmobiles come in every conceivable size and shape, and ski resorts have found uses for all of them. At the small end of the scale, Vail operates a rental fleet of tiny 120cc machines at Adventure Ridge; they’re just capable of puttering around a level oval track at a brisk walking pace. At the big end, ski patrols need heavy haulers to pull loaded stretcher sleds smoothly and safely to the clinic.
Most utility ‘biles are big, with a two- or even three-place saddle and room for a toolbox in back. Size implies weight, so you’ll need the wider 20-inch track for float in softer snow (sport machines often have a 16-inch track), and it should be long for stability and grip (156 inches on a typical 2-seat “touring” machine).
A worksled should have enough punch—60hp and up—to pull a driver, passenger and a loaded trailer up a steep hill. Nowadays the power choice usually falls on a quiet four-stroke engine. While two-strokes have a better power-to-weight ratio, four-strokes are gutsier where it counts: in the low-speed torque range needed to get a loaded trailer moving. Four-stroke engines also run longer without maintenance, burn less fuel and oil, and don’t leave that thin blue exhaust haze hanging in the clean mountain air.
Electronic fuel injection (EFI) is an important development. EFI compensates for operating elevation, thinning the fuel mix as the machine climbs. This may not be a critical issue for a small hill, but if you plan to operate your machinery from 7,000 feet up to 12,000, EFI will automatically optimize power and fuel burn. If you do go with a carbureted engine, make sure your dealer installs the correct jet for your elevation.
The other critical tuning item on a snowmobile is the centrifugal clutch. It can be adjusted to kick in for high-speed power or low-speed torque. In most ski resort operations, you’ll want it dialed for maximum torque.
A fully-equipped worksled can run around $10,000.
Typical heavy hauler snowmobiles:
1) Arctic Cat
Bearcat WT Turbo: 660cc Suzuki 3-cyl 4-stroke EFI 110 hp; 707 lbs.; track 20x156x1.25.
Bearcat WT: 660cc Suzuki 3-cyl 4-stroke EFI 53 hp; 680 lbs.; track 20x156x1.00.
It has a third seat option.
2) Bombardier Ski-Doo
Skandic SWT V800: 800cc Rotax V-twin 4-stroke 65 hp EFI; track 24x156x1.25.
Expedition TUV: 800cc Rotax V-twin 4-stroke 65 hp EFI: track 20x156x1.25.
WideTrak: 488cc 4-stroke 65 hp; 643 lbs.; track 20x156x1.
VK Professional: 973cc 3-cyl 4-stroke, carbureted; 765 lbs.; track 20x156x1.25.
Also, in a class by itself:
5) Alpina (Italy)
Sherpa: 1.4 liter Peugeot 4-cyl EFI 75 hp; 1,180 lbs.; twin-track 57 inches wide; 50x25inch loadbed.
This machine is unique, and fits between the single-track snowmobiles and the double-track diesel grooming vehicles. It will easily pull an XC track-setting sled.
A few smaller machines for high-speed personnel transport may be useful. If you want your chief electrician or lift mechanic to get anywhere in a hurry, a lighter, more maneuverable sled may be in order. The Ski-Doo Tundra, for instance, has the same high-capacity engine as its Skandic and Expedition machines, on a lightweight solo chassis—at about half the cost of the big haulers.
ATVs and Utes
The limiting factor for snowmobile utility is, of course, snow. The same on-hill transport and light hauling tasks on dirt and turf call for an ATV or light utility vehicle—a UTV or ute. These four-wheel vehicles can often do light snowplowing and mowing jobs, carry spraying equipment and, of course, put small work crews with light tools anywhere on the property.
The ATV was originally developed for recreational use; basically it was seen as a stable dirt-bike. The typical working ATV still uses motorcycle seating, and fore-and-aft cargo racks sit high over the axles, front and rear. This means it takes a good heave to get a heavy load onto the rack, and the machine may feel top-heavy when carrying a maximum load (200 to 300 pounds). It also means that when the rear rack is loaded, the rider may have trouble swinging a leg over the saddle.
A few years ago, a new breed of utility vehicles emerged, designed more for sedate and stable load hauling than for sporty riding. These UTVs look like a cross between a golf cart and a pickup truck. Seating is two- or three-across, using bucket seats or a bench. The load is carried in a cargo bed rather than on a luggage rack, and the bed is often set up to tilt like a dump truck. The cargo bed sits low enough for easy loading, and a steering wheel replaces the ATV’s motorcycle-style handlebars. And the engine/transmission combination is set up for a 25 mph top speed.
A sports-style ATV carries only its rider, but can pull a small trailer. This makes it useful for hauling tools and supplies. A ute, on the other hand, can carry a two- or three-person work crew with its bench-type seating. Most will carry half a ton of cargo, or tow a trailer weighing up to 2,000 pounds. They use wide balloon tires designed to float over meadows and wet ground without sinking. Just so you won’t miss the point, most utes can be equipped with a roll cage to protect all passengers if the thing slides off an embankment. You won’t see ROP (rollover protection) on an ATV.
ATVs are often delivered with “mud” tires, featuring one-inch self-clearing lugs, often in an overlapping chevron pattern to reduce noise on hard surfaces. These off-road tires offer great traction for steep and broken ground, and they’re often armored with Kevlar, to get you home if you suffer a flat far from civilization. These tires also work well on most firm snow surfaces. A few ATVs—the Polaris line, for instance—can be equipped with four-wheel snowtracks, so they resemble a miniature Tucker Sno-cat.
Because the original sports-style ATVs were often transported in pickup trucks, they’re pretty narrow, and therefore not as stable as you might like for side-hill work. Most ATVs are also designed around high-revving, lightweight air-cooled motorcycle engines, matched to lightweight transmissions.
In fact, even a small engine, if revved up, makes enough horsepower to pull a small trailer. The limiting factor is usually the automatic transmission. Most of these machines come with a CVT—a continuously variable transmission, which uses a belt running over conical pulleys to match engine speed to output. The CVT works well, but the early units tended to burn belts under heavy loads. Today, most vehicles meant for towing add a two-speed transfer case or a torque converter to ease the load on the CVT, and belts are often reinforced with Kevlar. The upgrades mean better CVT reliability, but even so, towing limits are often higher with conventional transmissions. For instance, a 650cc engine with a manual transmission may be rated to tow 2,000 pounds, while the same engine with a CVT is usually rated to tow between 800 and 1,500 pounds.
The right choice for heavy hauling is a high-torque, slow-turning, liquid-cooled engine. Some utes run on three-cylinder liquid-cooled diesels. These small engines were originally designed to push a 20-foot sailboat through heavy seas, or to turn a 10,000-watt electric generator for days at a time, if necessary. A ute so equipped will run reliably, under heavy load, with very little maintenance.
The other issue for hauling a load is braking. Some utes offer only rear-wheel brakes. This is adequate for golf-cart style working conditions, moving modest loads on level ground. It may not be adequate for stopping half a ton of load on a steep downhill grade. Safe operation on a ski hill calls for automobile-style four-wheel brakes.
Want to move loads around inside the workshed? Look at turning radius. The ATVs, and even some of the smaller utes, have a turning radius of about 10 feet, which is agile enough to turn donuts in a warehouse. Larger utes need 20 feet or more to turn around, so you’ll do more backing to reach tight corners.
Typical ATVs for ski hill use
Outlander Max 800HO EFI: 800cc Rotax V-twin EFI 65 hp engine; CVT transmission; two-up saddle; 300 lbs. cargo, 1,300 lbs. towing; dry weight 689 lbs.
Sportsman 800 EFI: 800cc V-twin EFI, CVT; two-up saddle, 300 lbs. cargo, 1,500 lbs. towing, dry weight 770 lbs. Available four-wheel snow tracks ($3,500 option).
Typical utes for ski hill use
1) John Deere
Gator HPX 4x4 Diesel: 854cc 3-cyl Yanmar (carbureted), CVT; 900 lbs. cargo, 1,300 lbs. towing, wet weight 1,473 lbs.; plowing gear available.
Mule 3010 Diesel 4x4: 954cc 3-cyl diesel, CVT; 1,100 lbs. cargo, 1,200 lbs. towing; dry weight 1,505 lbs.; plow available; also available in 4-seat Trans version.
Toolcat 5600: mini-frontloader. 46 hp diesel, 1,500 lbs. load capacity, hydrostatic drive with four-wheel steering.