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I’ve been riding and modifying “Mr. Tippy” lately. That’s the nickname I tend to use for our Yamaha Nytro snowmobile; a high-tech low-pollution 4-stroke machine that works well for ski access, but nonetheless is a bit on the heavy side and difficult to control. Seems we need to ride Mr. Tippy more, and modify him more. So this weekend we did a couple of backcountry skiing trips with sled access. Not long sessions of riding, but enough to get a feel for the changes I’ve been making. More about the sled later in this post, first a few photos of the skiing.
As for the sled. Day one, Lisa and I did about 14 miles on the Nytro (round trip), accessing a fairly remote area in the western Elk Mountains that would normally require an overnight. Day two, we headed up to the heart of the Elks, sledding the flat approach to Pearl Basin then parking the Nytro and skinning Pearl Mountain. Despite a windy few days, we found enough boot-top powder to keep us happy. The snowmobile trails were well based so I couldn’t do any deep powder riding, but I found enough soft stuff to start testing things.
Challenge with the Nytro comes down to it being designed (as most mountain sleds now are) for an aggressive rider who can throw the thing around. Probably a guy who weighs more than me, and has more arm strength and WAY better technique. At slower speeds, for example breaking trail through deep powder on a narrow road in dense timber, you don’t always have the room to maneuver that way. Instead, you need stability, not extreme response to every body weight shift. In other words, given such conditions you don’t need a sled that feels like you’re kneeling on a bowling ball, but rather one that tends to track straight even when one ski submarines or the trail suddenly tilts, in the dark, with five feet of room to either side of your line.
So why didn’t we get something other than a tweaky mountain sled? Simple, everyone’s advice was to indeed get this type of rig, as mountain sleds are generally lighter weight and simply more versatile than an even bigger “trail” or “work” snowmobile. They also told me a mountain sled would take some getting used to, and we’d need to at least adjust the suspension, install a bar riser for more side-to-side leverage and better ergonomics while riding in the standing position.
Fine, and noticeable improvements, except the Nytro has one quirk that’s tough to deal with. If you’re moving slow on even a moderate sidehill, and turn downhill in a certain way, the sled will quickly tip over on it’s side, or even do a 1/2 roll. Sure, with room to maneuver and some speed, modern sled technique includes moves equal to ski technique, such as sidehilling using counter steering (see vid). But I’m talking situations with little room to move, basically creeping around.
Sometimes the Mr. Tippy roll happens in comedic slow motion, with me hanging off the high side like some guy on a competition sail boat — with absolutely no effect. Other times the event occurs dangerously fast. And once you’re over, you’ve got more than 400 lbs of dead weight you’re trying to rectify. Adding insult, there will always be a snowshoer or x-c skier who’ll come by just about the time you’re standing there scratching your head trying to engineer a way to roll the thing back up.
The mods I’ve done on our Yamaha Nytro (’08) have definitely helped with the rolling problem, especially shortening the limiting straps and widening the ski stance. (Note, widening the stance has the disadvantage of making it tougher to tip back up after a roll, and also makes it difficult to sidehill by counter steering and tipping up on one ski.) But I’d still like more stability at slow speeds. To that end, I’m told that wider aftermarket skis with more “keel” and the option to change mounting position for/aft will also help with stability. That mod is on the list, but it’s pricey and might have to wait till next year. At the least, I’ll wait till we wear out our present set of ski carbides running on this spring’s asphalt patches during runs such as Maroon Creek. Looking forward to that. Nothing like shooting up to the Maroon Bells or Pyramid Peak for some world-class spring ski mountaineering (so long as I can keep my speed up and counter steer on the sidehills — just kidding, we park at the end of the road and it’s human power from there!)
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain. For more about Lou, please see his personal website at https://www.loudawson.com/ (Blogger stats: 5 foot 10 inches (178 cm) tall, 160 lbs (72574.8 grams).