Sorry this took so long to post today, spent the morning mounting some Dynafit FT12s for Chris Davenport — when that world traveler finally shows up at the workshop you’ve got to jump on it! More about Dav’s Reader’s Ride in a few days. For now, what about towing skiers with a snowmobile?
Towing skiers behind your sled is part art, part science, and part athletics. First, your tow-ee has to be a good skier, otherwise they’ll struggle with the unfamiliar combo of both gliding skis and pull force. Cord choice is important. I favor 7 or 8 millimeter climbing rope. This has some give, is light weight, but still thick enough to tangle less during storage and be easier to handle with gloved hands.
For safety reasons on narrow roads and trails I try to tow no more than two people at a time, so I use an approximately 60 foot chunk of rope and divide it between the two skiers, with a few feet of stagger so they’re not exactly next to each other. By the time the rope is knotted in various ways and adjusted for the type of trail, the skiers end up anywhere from about 20 to 30 feet behind the sled. Closer works better for trails with tight turns but the skiers get blasted in the face by the track wake, farther is more relaxing but doesn’t work as well for turns.
Perhaps the most important trick is how you attach the skier. Foremost, never ever tie or clip the skier in to the rope. If they fall they’ll get dragged and likely injured. Instead, whatever method of attachment you use should be “dead man” in that when the skier lets go with a hand they immediately detach from the rope. For ultimate simplicity or short distance you can hand hold a knotted rope, or insert your ski poles through a loop and use them as a handle. Either of those methods are hard and possibly even injurious on the arms and shoulders, and having your poles attached to the rope means if you drop off for some reason you’ll be stranded without your ski poles, watching your friend and his sled fade into the distance with your ski poles merrily bouncing at the end of the tow rope. (More, for safety reasons we don’t recommend using ski poles as a handle, see below.)
Better, attach the rope at your waist and use some sort of shock absorption system and dead-man link. Below are a few ways of doing that.
Another aspect is how you attach the rope to the snowmobile. I favor a tying a simple bowline knot on the rear bumper. The main thing is not to leave any rope that could hang down and get tangled in the track. Likewise, take great care if your sled has reverse as backing over a rope and tangling in your track could be a mechanical disaster.
How the snowmobile driver behaves is as important as your tow system. Drop throttle starts obviously don’t work unless you’re trying for amusement park thrills. Likewise, keep your speed down. I’ve found the safest velocities to be around 15 mph for rough technical trails with grade variations, creeping up to 25 mph on wide groomers. You can go faster than that with good skiers on the right trail, but remember you’re not there to produce thrills, but rather to reach a destination in the most efficient and safe way possible. Get in the habit of frequently looking back at the skiers — another reason to keep speed down as in normal snowmobiling looking to the rear is a BAD habit. If you do a lot of towing, get a hands free comm system and use it for chat between the towee and driver. Or at the least agree on some hand signals.
Skier technique and behavior are important as well. Above all, resist the temptation to goof around when you’re being towed. It’s all fun until someone gets hurt. What’s more, trying to “water ski” behind a sled places more resistance on the mechanicals and causes funky steering behavior when the tail of the sled gets pulled to the side. Best is to simply strive for a relaxed glidy style that puts the least stress on you and the sled.
Perhaps the hardest part of being pulled on skis by a snowmobile is dealing with downhills. As a towee you’re already moving at a steady clip behind the sled, so when you hit a downhill you may find yourself accelerating to a slightly higher speed than the sled and developing slack in the tow line that’s tough to deal with. As the towee on a downhill, try keeping your speed down by throwing in a slight snowplow. As driver, try to anticipate downhills. Slow down a bit before you hit a down grade, then accelerate back to cruising speed as you progress on the downhill section — idea being to keep slack out of the line. On long downhills the towee should simply let go of the tow line and glide it out, especially if they can’t control their line slack.
Lastly, since this is a motorized “sport,” everyone involved should be wearing a helmet.