Gearing up for winter frolic: Spend time tuning-up and inspecting your equipment

Posted: Friday, November 06, 2009

With the recent cool temperatures, the Kenai Peninsula is on the cusp of having its first snowfall of the season. When it comes, winter recreationists will head to the outdoors to pursue their pastime of choice.

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Clarion staff
Clarion staff
Women learn about snowmachine maintenance at at winter symposium several years ago.

However, while waiting for the white stuff to come, there are a few tasks that can be done to ensure the first foray ends enjoyably.

Snowmachines can provide months of winter fun and adventure, but before taking an iron dog out for a spin this winter season, it is important to make sure there are no long term effects from letting it sit for several months.

"Basically, you want to spend about an hour doing a basic tune-up and inspection," said Lane Giesler, owner of Arctic Motor Sports and Hobbies in Soldotna.

Giesler said whether bringing a snowmachine in for professional servicing or doing the work at home, there are several things that should be done to ensure the first ride of the season doesn't end in a long walk home.

"The fuel system is a biggie," he said. "You don't want dirty fuel. If you stabilized your gas in the fall, it's no problem, but if you haven't stabilized it you may be in for stuck injectors or carburetors."

Giesler recommends draining the tank before adding any fresh gasoline and cleaning the carburetor since the main cause of engine failure when snowmachines are first taken out is a dirty carburetor. Cleaning it can be done with a can of carburetor cleaner and some basic tools.

"We usually change out all the spark plugs and get new ones in," he said.

Giesler also recommended checking the throttle and oil cables for signs of damage, and checking for cracks or damage in the fan or water pump belt, if the machine has one.

"You basically want to inspect all the fluids," Giesler said.

If necessary, brake fluid should be added. The lid of the master cylinder can reveal the specific grade of fluid that should be used. For sleds with radiators, coolant should be up to the cold mark.

"Drive clutches and belts can get sticky, and should be inspected for wear," Gielser said.

Giesler also recommends evaluating the skis on a machine to ensure they're in good condition to avoid major problems and potential danger. If it has steel skis, make sure they don't have any holes. If plastic, check them for any deep gouges or cuts.

"You also want to check your wear bars (rods) and runners," he said.

Runners that are slightly bent can be straightened by using a vice or by taking it in to a repair shop, but Giesler said, generally, if they're bad, it is best to replace them.

Most riders carry a spare drive belt, but anyone who has ever changed one on the trail with cold hands and limited tools can vouch that it is better to replace belts with worn lugs or tearing edges before they're blown to bits.

"You also want to grease the suspension and steering fitting," Giesler added.

Riders can consult their owner's manual to find the lubrication points on the machine, and lubricate them as indicated using a grease gun, being sure to avoid adding too much grease. It should be an all-season or winter-grade grease.

Also, since much of the riding season in Alaska involves days short in daylight, it's always a good idea to check a sled's lights. Not only will lights keep a machine visible to other riders at night, but also in a storm they can be the most important thing for keeping a group together.

While some people may be mechanically inclined enough to perform some of these pre-season tune-ups on older snowmachines, Brain Alexander, owner of A-1 Enterprises in Soldotna, said the newer sleds may require professional work.

"The technology has changed so much in recent years with high-tech fuel injection systems, ignition systems and even computerized components," he said. "Your local authorized dealer has training, special tools and computer diagnostics, service manuals, OEM parts, and access to factory reps if needed to diagnose and fix your sled right."

Alexander said taking sleds to authorized dealers also allows them to run the machine vehicle identification number (VIN) to check for factory sponsored updates or recalls that need to be done for safety reasons.

"Regardless of year or whether or not you are the original purchaser," he said. "This is generally true with all products -- snowmachines, ATV's motorcycles, etc."

For skiers, a big part of preparing for winter is getting themselves in shape, but attention must also be paid to their equipment as well. As with snowmachines, some skiers coat their skis in a protective layer of cover wax for summer, but as the mercury drops its time for this to be removed.

"You've got to scrape that off to get a new layer on for the fresh snow," said Alan Boraas, chairman of a the Tsalteshi Trails Association.

While working with wax, Boraas also recommended skiers make sure they have enough to last through the upcoming season, so they're not scrambling at the last minute.

"You want to get your wax together," he said. "Be sure you've purchased whatever you used up from last year. How much you need usually depends on how much you ski and what the temperatures are."

Boraas said now is also a good time to get other equipment together.

"You want to check and make sure all your gear still fits," he said. "Checking you boots and bindings, also, your poles and ski straps and baskets. Any that are cracked you want to replace."

Ski racks or ski boxes can also be attached to vehicles, he said.

Dog mushers, despite training their canine companions, also have many tasks to perform before the white stuff comes down.

"By the time the snow flies I hope to have done all the things on my refrigerator list," said Jill Garnet, sprint musher from Kasilof.

"I will have already put fresh straw in my dog truck and yard houses," she said. "I will have adjusted all the gates in our yard to accommodate the first snow fall, and I will have rigged conduit to all my dog yards to power the electric water bowls for fresh water all winter."

Not all the chores are kennel related. Garnet said she will also tune-up her mushing equipment.

"I will have already gone over all of the nuts and bolts on my sleds and put training (plastic) on the runners and the sled bags on," she said. "I will also have already made new gang-lines and tug-lines, and I will have replaced any old ropes used for my snow hook.

Garnet said she also will have sorted through all the winter clothing for her and the dogs, and then put them either in the truck or readily available in her closet.

Being having everything ready early, Garnet said she is better prepared for the final chore that comes with the first blanket of accumulation.

"Once the snow finally arrives I will get out and break a trail somewhere," she said.

Joseph Robertia can be reached at

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