Snow-trackers find Sisters playground


Last updated 3/12/2024 at 10:41am

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ATVs converted for snow travel make the backcountry a playground.

What a difference a few weeks make. Ski Hoodoo waited until January to open for lack of snow. Now they are sitting atop 80 inches plus, with more coming in. At the nearby Sno Parks, and Three Creek Sno Park closer to town, the snowmobiles are revved up and gliding over deep snow terrain.

The Three Creek snow-measuring station reported 40-inch snowpack on Saturday - 88 percent of normal, a big gain from just a few weeks ago. The late-season snow is a delight of snowmobilers, snowshoers, and cross-country skiers who share the winter playground.

The diverse groups generally play well together as each has its designated trails. But in recent years a new breed of recreationalists have shown up. Owners of ATVs (all-terrain vehicles) of the tandem and side by side versions have figured out how to remove the wheels and replace them with treads or trax, as is preferred.

With higher profiles and/or wider stances they can appear intimidating. Their tank-like drive system can also make a bigger footprint on the snow. They are not always welcomed with open arms.

A foursome from Redmond acknowledged the reaction.

"We know we are the bad boys when we pull into the lot. We get lots of stares and questions about where we're going to run," said Gary Tolman, speaking for the group.

"Once we tell folks we're going to be well out of their way in back country, far from their trails, everybody seems to relax a bit," added Cal Deitrich.

It's also the case that the rigs are like magnets, with groups forming around the machines, and talk soon turning to: "How much (cost), how fast, and how hard to convert (wheels to treads)?"

A conversion kit runs between $3,000 and $5,000, with the average over $4,000. They can be run over mud, rocks, and logs but when used in the snow they will last years with little maintenance.

Experts say that it's a learning curve with first-time riders typically driving too fast and losing control. They are harder to steer. Compared to sleds (snowmobiles) however, they are generally more maneuverable and utilitarian. They cannot compete with sleds in terms of steep terrain or overall speed. On the flip side, they can be rigged for plowing and have a bigger payload.

The speedometer is fooled when you put on trax.

"If it reads that you are going 50, it'll be more like 25 or 30," Tolman explained.

Gloria Edmunds from Powell Butte thought out loud that the snow-rigged ATVs had one huge advantage over her sled, as she eyed the full driver and passenger enclosure: "That's gotta be warm."

Rita Bradley from Bend, on hand for cross-country skiing, was skeptical of the machines' impact.

"Aren't those treads going to mess up the snow?" she asked.

Deitrich tried to assure her that used properly they actually leave little impression. claims that "the larger surface area of the tracks results in a more even distribution of the vehicle's weight, reducing the individual points of pressure that force the machine down into the ground. This is particularly important when using ATVs in delicate ecosystems or areas with loose topsoil, such as wetlands and grasslands."


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