You had better get out to the local supermarket like everyone else in town and clear the shelves because a storm is coming. It has always cracked me up that when the news is calling for any decent amount of snow people treat it like an apocalypse. I on the other hand am one of those people who feels the need to go out in it as an adventure! I get bundled up, put on my war paint, clear the foot of snow off my car and battle traffic with terrible drivers just to get hot chocolate and feminine hygiene products for the wife. If you are a dude, you’ve been there. It helps if you have a capable winter vehicle, not only for getting around but for having fun. If it’s the first snow of the year though, you had better be careful because no matter where you live everybody forgets how to drive in the snow over the summer. There are many factors in making a car a good snowman killer but what if you live somewhere where even the most badass four-wheel-drive wont get you to where you need to go?
I realize some of you who are reading this may not live where in areas that see snow in the winter time and I feel kind of bad for you. I say kind of because the older I get the less I like clearing my driveway and the sidewalks at my office but it is fun to drive in, with the right vehicle anyways. Snow makes driving a whole different world, it’s like driving on another planet in some ways. Everything is slick and frozen. I feel like growing up in a place with adverse weather conditions helped make me a better driver. I was lucky enough to have a first vehicle that was capable of travel in the snowy weather, a four-wheel-drive pickup truck. It taught me how to drive a rear-wheel-drive vehicle in the snow but with a quick pull of a leaver I had 4×4 capability to get me out of trouble. I am pretty sold on all-wheel-drive cars but there is something different about a 4×4 pickup in the snow. They really do feel unstoppable plowing through 4 ft drifts. AWD cars are very impressive, especially with snow tires but they just aren’t the same when you get into the really deep stuff where you need the ground clearance. They also don’t care about curbs or any other wheel damaging objects that are hard to see when covered in the frozen stuff.
My first car was a 1994 Dodge Ram, single cab, 4wd with a 318 V-8 and I could not have asked for a better first car experience. The truck was a tank and I would take it anywhere. The only time I ever got the thing stuck was in a snow drift of the side of a terrace in a field. The snow was so deep we had to climb out of the windows to get out. Luckily there was another guy out playing in the snow and yanked me out. For a stock ride height truck with not overly aggressive tires it was a mountain goat. I never had to worry about getting anywhere in town no matter how much snow we got. The other side was the fact that everyone I knew who didn’t have a 4wd would need a ride or pulled out when they were stuck but I enjoyed it. As with almost all of the cars I have owned I never should have sold that truck especially since it was my first car. It made for a great way to pull a tube around the high school parking lot with some friends in a snowstorm!
In areas of the country, or world for that matter, that get large amounts of snow there are better means of transportation than 4wd trucks or awd cars. Vehicles like the snowcat are how people get to and from remote locations with feet of snow on the ground. A snow cat is a big box with tank treads that can pretty much make its own road up the side of a snow covered mountain! Some of the first iterations of the snow cats were based off of model Ts and had tracks in the back with skis up front, think snow half track. The driver was exposed to the elements in a bucket seat similar to an old tractor. It wasn’t until the 1930s and 40’s that companies like Tucker and Bombardier started manufacturing enclosed units. The first tucker models kept the ski motif upfront but later replaced them with set of tracks. Thiokol was another popular brand that was bought by John Delorean and sold under the DMC brand, the same brand responsible for Marty’s sweet stainless time traveller.
The old Tuckers look pretty sweet with the set of tracks at all four corners that move independently of each other. The older ones are said to be as easy to work on as an old carbureted pickup as a lot of them used common axles, transmissions, and engines found in road vehicles. Past the transmissions though, they were a whole different animal and take a knowledgeable person with the right tools to work on. They were powered by everything from air-cooled Volkswagen 4 cylinders to Chrysler V-8s but the most common engines in the older models were AMC and Ford straight sixes. The new standard for the smaller heavier duty cats is the Cummins inline four cylinder turbo diesel. The larger units like the PistenBully 600 Polar are powered by a 500 plus horsepower 11.8L Cummins turbo diesel and are a far cry from the snowcats of yesteryear. They are packed with technology and are more capable than ever. Many nowadays are used for ski resort maintenance, search and rescue, and remote municipality work. There are jamborees and everything for enthusiasts to get together and show off their snowcats. Some groups even get together for trail rides just like those inferior Jeep clubs!
Another option for extreme snow travel is the snowmobile. Many places get so much snow having a snowmobile is essential for getting around and they are much cheaper and more efficient than a big ol snowcat. Not to mention, they look like a blast! I have never ridden one but i know they haul ass. The snowmobile has come a long way from its first iterations which were just toboggans with a track on them. The most popular ones had raised seats and were powered by Indian motorcycle engines or modifies outboards. These early versions were pretty primitive but it was the early 1900s, everything was primitive back then. It took a while to get companies to start manufacturing useable snowmobiles and one of the big names to emerge is still one of the biggest today, Polaris. Their first models were big and slow weighing in at 1,000 lbs and would run 20 mph flat out but it marked the beginning of the design for modern day snowmobiles. Bombardier, also a builder of snowcats, jumped in the game about the same time and is still a popular choice amongst buyers today.
Today there are quite a few choices out there for snowmobile enthusiasts with offerings from Bombardier, Arctic Cat, Yamaha, and Polaris. Obviously today’s sleds provide more performance than ever before. The first sleds offered as little as 5 hp and most sleds through history have been 2 stroke engines. The 4 stroke engine has gained popularity over the past 15 to 20 years and make some serious power for a small single person machine. Todays snowmobiles make in excess of 150 hp with some making 180+ hp with 1,000 cc engines. That’s before turbocharging which is offered on some of the newer sleds! My 1996 Subaru that I drive daily only has 135 hp, well at least when it was new. Snowmobiles are more capable that ever with new track designs, better weight distribution, and power. They are used for everything from competitive racing series to modes of transportation in areas where they are essential tools for one’s survival. There are very few places these machines can’t get you when the snow piles up and if you live somewhere that sees feet of snow every season they really are a necessity.
I have never lived somewhere that gets so much snow you have to use a tracked vehicle to get somewhere and as much of an adventure as that sounds I dont think its for me. I mean I like some snow to play in but there is no way I could live somewhere that gets feet of snow that’s on the ground for more than 6 months a year or year round for that matter. I suppose if you grow up in a place like that it’s all you know. On the flip side of that I miss the big snow storms we got when I was younger. Maybe it’s just me but it sure feels like the storms were bigger back then. I remember going out with my Grandpa and my dad in one of their trucks and we would look for the steepest hills we could find and see if the truck would go up it and it always would. We would plow through snow drifts that were big enough to hide cars in. I still like to go out and check out the storm to this day. It’s almost become a bit of a tradition! From all of us here at Gearbox go get bundled up, have some fun, and keep the shiny side up!