Snowmobile Training on a Beautiful Day!

Snowmobile Training on a Beautiful Day!
Written by Betty Trummel

Today’s training was really FUN! We had snowmobile training from Dale, our very enthusiastic and knowledgeable instructor from Wyoming. He gave us a thorough training on the snowmobiles we might be using at our WISSARD test site or in the field camp.

These fuel-injected Skandic Ski-doos are made by Bombardier. I’ve ridden snowmobiles before, but needed this refresher course to learn more about the mechanics behind the machine! Every one of our training sessions is designed with our safety in mind, and we have to be prepared to drive one of these machines if needed.

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Dale took us step-by-step through the inspection and operation of this machine. If outside, our first step would be to uncover the machine. The protective cover keeps snow from blowing onto and accumulating on the machine. Dale taught us how to inspect the suspension poles on both sides of the snowmobile, and how to use our basic tool kit.

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To check the engine, we had to pull up the rack that was over it….by undoing the hitch pins that held it in place. When we grabbed the hood, we needed to use the handle, not the windshield, to fold it back and take a look inside. Dale showed us how to change a belt, check the spark plugs, and how to check levels of gear fluid and transmission fluid using the dipsticks. He also mentioned that when we first opened the hood, we might have to check for snow build up and clean that out by hand.

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When our indoor session was done, we headed outside for some real fun! Dale loaded us into the back of a pick-up truck and once we were seated he drove us slowly down to the transition (where the sea ice meets the edge of town) and carefully drove out onto the sea ice for part two of our lesson. It was a blue-sky, 35 degree temperature day (that’s ABOVE zero folks) in McMurdo. What a difference a day makes…compared to our Happy Camper adventure!

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Our group had to practice driving on a short course set up on the sea ice. We had poles to weave around, a hill or two to negotiate, and we had to practice making turns and driving in both 1st and 2nd gears, as well as reverse. There was a special procedure for starting the snowmobile and I actually wrote it down during class so I wouldn’t forget all of the steps when I got out here to practice. Step one, make sure your snowmobile is in neutral. Next: “kill” switch down, pump the primer 3 times, pull the chord 3 times, pull “kill” switch out, turn key switch on (these are electric start machines), pull down the choke enrichment lever if it’s really cold (it wasn’t today, so we skipped this step), and while you are turning the key put your hand on the throttle and push gently. You have to let the engine warm up and Dale mentioned that a good “rule of thumb” (which means rule to follow) is that the engine is warmed up enough when your hand-warmers on the steering bar are warm (about 2-3 minutes). And, away we went!

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It was SO much fun riding around through the course and everyone practiced their turns, going up and down small hills, weaving through the flagged route, and switching gears (you had to be stopped to do that). With the views of Mt. Discovery and the Royal Society Range of the Transantarctic Mountains across McMurdo Sound, I could have ridden around all day long! I love snowmobiling!

Dale reminded us to always be seated when we ride, to use hand signals for safety, and to always, ALWAYS be focused on safety. It is easy to skid on icy conditions, and with flat light (light that doesn’t give much definition to the snow or ice and makes it hard to see hills or uneven surfaces) it would be easy to get yourself into trouble if going too fast. Caution is the name of the game out here!

Here’s a little video of our group practicing on the snowmobile training course.

After our fun in the sun, Dale had us refuel each snowmobile so they were ready for the next user. It would be a real negative thing to leave a machine without enough fuel for the day.

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Fuel is dispensed slowly and VERY carefully. We don’t want even one drop to spill on the ice to contaminate this pristine environment. Thanks, Dale, for a great training session and for your enthusiasm for snowmobiles and safety here in Antarctica!

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As we were waiting to fuel our snowmobiles, we noticed these huge machines taking loads of snow to the beginning of the transition. Sea ice is melting more and more each day and the transition zone has gotten messy. New loads of snow are dumped in this area and smoothed over. That makes the transition last a bit longer. Not long from now, the sea ice may break apart and drift out. Even if that doesn’t happen, an ice breaker will bust through the ice and enter McMurdo Sound, most likely in January. A re-supply vessel will bring in large equipment and supplies for next season, and another ship will bring in a load a fuel for the station. I hope to be around for some of that action!

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Below you’ll see a very nice view of Crary Lab from the sea ice. That’s where I’m spending most of my time right now, at least until the drilling starts very soon. See the upper row of windows on the right? That’s where I work and I have a terrific view of Mt. Discovery and the Royal Society Range from my “office” in the library upstairs.

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One last photo….this was cool and I know my husband, Chris and our son Matt will like this (both pilots and Matt flies helicopters in the Army)! This helicopter was carrying a container back from a field camp. It landed on the helo pad here in McMurdo Station as we stood out on the sea ice.

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And, to my son Patrick….they have 150 snowmobiles down here…this is the place for you!

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