BY TOM LAVIS
When living in the snowbelt of the Laurel Highlands, it’s easy to understand why people become snowmobile enthusiasts.
Few are more supportive of the sport than Al Martin, owner of Martin Marine Sales Inc., 763 Pike Road, Mundys Corner.
The Martin family has been in business for 58 years, many of which have been dedicated to riding and selling snow sleds.
“At the height of snowmobile popularity in the 1970s, more than 150 companies from John Deere to Harley-Davidson were making snowmobiles,” Martin said.
“We now have four manufacturers producing all the machines, but they have become more high-tech, environmentally friendly, efficient and safer.”
While many people enjoy the outdoors riding all-terrain vehicles, the loyal snowmobile fraternity thrives on the cold.
“ATVs have no specific season, but snowmobiling is a sport all of its own,” Martin said.
“A snowmobile leaves less of a footprint and has less effect on the land than a human does.”
Snowmobiles are motorized vehicles designed specifically for traveling on snow, and provide a sense of exhilaration, freedom and fun.
The machines are mainly recreational and allow one or two riders to sit in an open cockpit, but they are also used as rescue vehicles, for trail grooming or in sports competitions.
The vehicle is propelled along a rubber track or tracks, and skis are used to steer.
“It’s nice to have between four to six inches of snow to ride, but we say the more snow the better,” Martin said.
Perspective buyers must be honest with themselves when it comes to determining a skill level.
Kerry Boring, general manager of Boring’s Arctic Cat, Route 711 South, New Florence, advises people to do their homework before buying.
“Most people explore the Internet or talk with people who have one to see what might suit them,” Boring said.
A lot of Boring’s customers are people who work as many as 14 hours a day in the construction trades, and winter is their time for recreation.
“During the nice weather, they are making money and often don’t have time for motorcycling or ATV riding,” he said.
“But the winter is their off-season and they enjoy the sport of snowmobiling.”
He said operating a snowmobile is fairly easy with the proper instruction.
Boring and other experts agree that first-time riders should attend a safety class and learn the important segments of snowmobiling.
“The area snowmobile clubs offer instruction and have courses on their grounds,” Boring said.
Martin said a big mistake that new snowmobile owners make is buying a machine with more power than the driver can safely control.
Snowmobile engines are measured in cubic centimeters of displacement and number of cylinders.
Entry-level snowmobiles are often called trail models. Youth models typically have a 120cc engine and cost about $2,600.
At the high end, an 800cc model, capable of running 100 mph, costs $12,000.
A one-person touring model starts around $7,900 and comes well equipped.
Options that once were add-ons now come standard on many models. They include reverse, which is useful when backing out of the garage or removing the machine from a trailer.
“Reverse can also be helpful to back out of situations in which people are stuck,” Martin said.
“Hand warmers and electric starts come standard on most sleds, but come equipped with a rope starter as a backup.”
If a person desires to ride with a passenger, a two-up model, which features a backrest, is an alternative.
Snowmobiling occasionally came under fire for being too noisy and producing high emissions, especially the typical two-stroke engine where oil had to be mixed with gasoline.
Manufacturers producing fuel-injected four-stroke engines have reduced the pollution and noise associated with snowmobiles.
While contemporary snowmobiles perform well in all kinds of snow conditions, some riders prefer a two-stroke model because they are lighter and more maneuverable.
“The two-stroke engines today burn just as clean, and the technology is amazing,” Martin said.
Because of the weather conditions involved in the sport, Boring said riders should invest in appropriate safety gear, such as helmets and gloves.
Boring said snowmobile clothing costs approximately $150 to $200 for a jacket and $150 for bibs, which are pants that extend up your chest and back. Boots range in price from $75 to $100 and gloves are about $40.
“Helmets are approximately $100 and many operators buy heated helmet shields for about $75 to improve visibility during their runs,” Boring said.
Maintenance on snowmobiles is basic and similar to motor-vehicle maintenance and operation. A licensed mechanic through a dealership is usually the best way to ensure the vehicle will be ready for use. Always check the oil, belts and moving mechanisms of the snowmobile and refer to the owner’s manual that comes with each machine.
A trailer to transport snowmobiles also is a consideration. Trailers start at $500 and go up to $3,000 for an enclosed trailer.
Martin said a good place to get information is from the people who ride them, such as members of the Chickaree Ridge Runners Snowmobile Club, which has been in existence for 38 years and whose grounds are in Vinco.
“The club is registered with the Cambria County 911 system and does rescue work when a snow emergency is declared,” Martin said.
“They also are involved in a lot of charity work.”
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