Time to get ready to roll

Now that snow’s on the ground, skis, sleds might need fine-tuning

Posted: Friday, November 11, 2005


  Participants learn about snowmachine maintenance at a Becoming an Outdoors Woman symposium last year in Soldotna. Now is the time prepare winter toys for a season of use. File photo by M. Scott Moon

Participants learn about snowmachine maintenance at a Becoming an Outdoors Woman symposium last year in Soldotna. Now is the time prepare winter toys for a season of use.

File photo by M. Scott Moon

For a skiing or snowmachining enthusiast, there is nothing worse than waiting through October, November or (hopefully not) December for that first recreationable cover of snow.

Oh wait, there is something worse than that wait. Getting that first snowfall, getting excited, and then finding out there won’t be any skiing or snowmachining that day because gear wasn’t readied in October, November or (hopefully not) December.

“A lot of people are caught by surprise when they go out the first time without checking things over,” said Steve Crane, a member of the board of directors for the Caribou Hills Cabin Hoppers.

Crane said he has been snowmachining for close to 20 years. In that time, he said the machines have become a lot more dependable and take very little maintenance.

That said, Crane said there are a number of simple steps that can be taken to make sure the first trip out is not a maddening one.

Crane said at the end of the season, he has his machine serviced.

“When you are riding it, you are aware of certain things that need to be repaired and changed,” Crane said. “If you park it without doing it, when you get it out the first part of the year, you have forgotten those things.”

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.

Crane said the biggest step he takes with his snowmachine in fall is to take out his 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, Crane also looks closely for loose bolts or anything else that jumps out at him as not quite right.

“If you see anything you’re not sure about, like something that may be broken or cracked, take it to the dealer,” Crane said. “The cost is minimal.”

Crane also replaces the drive belt on his machine and keeps the old one for a spare.

With the machine ready, Crane takes out his clothes, helmet, boots and survival gear and makes sure everything still fits and works.

By survival gear, Crane said he means equipment that will allow the rider to spend a night out in the field if necessary. Crane also said 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. Crane said some trails, like the Clam Gulch Trail, typically have a lot of windfall early in the season.

Also, this year the Ninilchik Native Association has given notice that all of their land is closed to snowmachines. This closes the Falls Creek Trail and the 126 Trail between the road system and Caribou Hills. Trail updates can be found at the Caribou Hills Cabin Hoppers Web site at www.akchch.org.

Crane also checks over his trailer, making sure his license is current, all the lights work and the tires have enough air.

Taft Davis, another member of the board for the Cabin Hoppers, said 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, Davis said 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 out 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.”

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.

Finally, Johnson said it pays to take out clothes that will be used for skiing and make sure they still fit and are not worn out.

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