Skico tests super-clean snowmobiles |

Skico tests super-clean snowmobiles

Jeremy Heiman

The Aspen Skiing Co. is testing a snowmobile that is said to produce 95 percent less pollution than standard models.

The machine is a pre-production prototype with a four-stroke engine, on loan from its manufacturer, Arctic Cat. Currently, most snowmobiles are powered by light, powerful, two-stroke engines.

Environmental engineer Caitlin Bowman said the machine was brought to Snowmass as part of a pollution-prevention program for ski areas. Bowman said the vehicle produces 95 percent less air pollution than a typical two-stroke snowmobile.

The Skico is looking at ways to reduce its overall environmental impacts and hopes eventually to replace its fleet of snowmobiles with more environmentally friendly machines. The Skico now has about 96 machines.

Snowmobiles are used by ski patrol, snowmaking crews, lift maintenance crews and numerous other Skico workers on the company’s four mountains.

Though an Arctic Cat four-stroke gasoline engine is expected to be in production by summer, the Skico doesn’t intend to replace its entire fleet right away, said Auden Schendler, director of environmental affairs for the company.

Schendler said the Skico may buy two or three of the machines when they become available in the fall, if the tests prove to be satisfactory. Perhaps, if the production machine introduced in the fall is more powerful than the prototype, he said, the company will purchase more.

The four-stroke engine developed into its present state through four years of testing at Yellowstone National Park, an area heavily impacted by recreational use of snowmobiles. The Montana Department of Environmental Health, Arctic Cat and Yellowstone National Park cooperated in the project, Bowman said.

“I think we all agree that something with less noise and pollution is good,” said Todd Etzel, a sales manager for Arctic Cat. But this machine also uses only half the gasoline and can drastically cut maintenance costs, he said. For instance, carbon build-up is a lesser problem and sparkplugs last longer than in the two-stroke engines.

After the machine was unloaded from a trailer at Snowmass Monday, the first person to take it for a spin was optimistic. Aaron Mayes, snowmobile manager for the Skico, said the 45-horsepower engine was “snappier” than he expected. The Polaris machines that make up most of the present fleet have 90-horsepower engines. Mayes was also impressed with how quietly it runs.

“It’s just weird, hearing that thing,” Mayes said. “On the hardpack, you don’t hear much more than the track and the skis.”

Like most snowmobiles, the Arctic Cat four-stroke machine has a rubber and fiber track in the rear and two steel skis in the front.

The machine has a 660-cubic-centimeter, three-cylinder, fluid-cooled engine made by Suzuki, which supplies all of Arctic Cat’s engines. To a bystander, it’s not silent. It sounds a lot like a small car.

Etzel said 50 of the Arctic Cat four-strokes are now in use in Yellowstone, and another 50 are distributed throughout the U.S. and other parts of the world. The U.S. Forest Service is interested in the machines, too, he said, and will bring people from all over the U.S. to test the machine at Grand Lake, Colo., this winter.

Schendler added that the Tenth Mountain Trail Association will look at the machine while it’s in the Skico’s possession.

Up to 15 percent or more of the fuel and oil mixture fed into two-stroke snowmobile engines is expelled in the exhaust. This is because in two-cycle engines, the intake and exhaust processes are occurring more or less at the same time. In four-stroke engines, the intake and exhaust phases occur at different times.

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