Rick Winings of Anchorage, Alaska, makes a pass on a well-traveled hill in Turnagain Pass south of Anchorage Monday, March 22, 2004, during an outing with his family. The area is popular with snowmachine riders and skiers.
M. SCOTT MOON
As a skier or snowmachiner, the season doesn’t start as soon as snow starts piling up on the ground. The season starts as soon as gear is ready to go.
While there is no control over the weather factor, there is plenty of control over the readiness factor.
In the past 20 years, snowmachines have become a lot more dependable and take very little maintenance. That said, there are a number of simple steps that can be taken to make sure the first trip out is not a maddening one.
At the end of the season, it helps to have the machine serviced so problems with the sled will not get buried in the memory banks during summer. While it is obviously too late to get machines serviced at the end of the season, riders should think back to last year and try hard to remember anything that was not working right on a snowmachine.
A big step to take with the snowmachine in fall is to take out the owner’s manual and follow the directions for getting the machine ready. The manual will point out all the lube points and fluids that need to be checked. The manual also has a maintenance checklist that should be followed.
In the process of following the manual's instructions, check closely for loose bolts or anything else that jumps out as not quite right. If something wrong is suspected, take the machine to a dealer.
Another good tip is to replace the drive belt and keep the old one for a spare.
With the machine ready, take out clothes, helmet, boots and survival gear and make sure everything still fits and works. Survival gear means equipment that will allow the rider to spend a night out in the field, if necessary. Part of survival is riding with a partner whenever it’s possible and letting someone know the when and where of a trip.
Those who plan to ride in the mountains must brush up on avalanche safety and put fresh batteries in an avalanche beacon and test them. Riders also should get updated information on the trails they plan to ride.
Riders also should check over the trailer, making sure the license is current, all the lights work and the tires have enough air. With more and more riders traveling off the peninsula to ride, tires and bearings should be checked often. In addition to a spare tire and rim, it is a good idea to have a spare set of bearings and a spare hub on trailer trips.
When making sure skis are set for the winter, Robert Johnson, an employee at Beemun’s Bike and Ski Shop, said the biggest thing for parents to worry about is their kids growing out of skis.
It is important to note that kids do not grow out of skis because they get taller. Kids grow out of skis because they get heavier. So if a child is roughly the same height as a year ago but matured and gained weight, the child will most likely need new skis.
“The size of a ski changes for about every 20 to 30 pounds a person grows,” Johnson said. “If a child has grown 20 pounds in a year or a year and a half it’s almost assured they need to get into the next size of ski.”
Growth also most likely means poles and boots will have to be replaced.
“If the kids are on a ski team, they should absolutely talk to the coach before they buy anything,” Johnson said. “They should make sure whatever they are buying is compatible with their needs.
“Just because you find an old used ski cheap doesn’t mean it’s good.”
Johnson said it is never too early for parents to see what their children will need so some of the gear can be worked into birthday and Christmas gifts.
Even if a skier is not on a team, Johnson said it would be wise to seek out the advice of an expert, such as a ski coach or those involved with the Tsalteshi Trails Association.
Johnson warned those with little or no skiing experience to be extremely wary of deals on the Internet and at ski swaps.
He said he has seen too many people buy based on color and price when it is the base and internal making of a ski that really matters. Also, not all bindings, skis and boots are compatible.
“If it’s two or three days after Christmas, we’ll have 50 people in here trying to make something work,” Johnson said. “People buying skis for the first time will get taken.”
Johnson also said it’s easy to get fooled when buying a used ski without the help of an experienced skier or ski coach. A ski can look perfectly shiny and new on top, but the base of the ski can be shot.
Johnson also said a ski should be cleaned with a hot layer of yellow wax before the first use of the season. Skiers should have applied a layer of yellow wax to protect the ski base over the course of the summer. If that wax was not applied in spring, three or four coatings of yellow wax may be more appropriate.
For those into racing, Johnson said hot box waxing has become popular in the last several years. At the beginning of the season, several heavy coats of glide wax will be applied to the skis, then the skis will be put into hot boxes available at some ski dealers for five or six hours.
Jeff Helminiak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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