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Ice Scratchers – What are they and do I need them? HFX Motorsports Fun Expert, Brett Vanderkooi breaks it down
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Ice Scratchers have become a necessary add on accessory for many snowmobilers as cheap insurance to keep their machine running cool in low snow conditions and increase hyfax lifespan. They have traditionally been used by mountain riders on the way to their favourite honey hole when snow conditions are poor at the bottom of the mountain. They are now becoming popular with trail riders who encounter hard packed and icy conditions causing their machines to overheat among other issues.
What are Ice scratchers?
Ice Scratchers are a small spring tine or cable with a hardened steel tip that is specifically designed to drag across (scratch) the surface of an icy lake, plowed road or hard packed trail as your snowmobile drives. There are various designs – most are aftermarket and some are an OEM add on accessory, but all serve the same purpose: to create snow dust for cooling and/or lubrication for the track and slides.
There are two main types of snowmobile ice scratchers, Spring tine and cable. Spring tine is the most effective for cooling and lubrication because this style of scratcher applies down pressure on the snow and ice, resulting in more snow dust for the machine. However, there is one major down side to this type: because of their design you cannot use reverse without first stopping to put the scratcher up into its holder. If you try to back up with them down it is very likely that they will get caught up and bend beyond repair.
Cable scratchers are a short and flexible metal cable with replaceable steel tips that drag across hard packed snow and ice surfaces to create snow dust. These scratchers, although a little less effective at creating snow dust, are often the scratcher of choice for most trail riders. This is because the flexible cable allows you to reverse the machine without causing damage to the scratcher. They also do not wear as quickly crossing roads or in gas station parking lots, as they do not apply down pressure. One down side to this type of scratcher is that depending on their location, they can chip the paint on your rails as they drag alongside the skid. For old machines this may not be a bother to you, but is something to consider with a new machine and powder coated rails.
When Do You Need Scratchers?
Ice scratchers are most often needed in late winter and early spring as trails begin to harden with higher daytime temperatures and refreezing during night. Spring snowmobiling can become spotty in open areas. Scratchers will allow you to cross low snow or brief no-snow areas, as they will build snow up in the track of your machine allowing you to travel longer without stopping to cool the engine. They are also a great help if you encounter a plowed woods road allowing you to safely travel to the next section of trail. Many riders find scratchers especially helpful if your area encountered a short mid-winter thaw until more fresh snow has fallen. Machines that are studded may not require the use of scratchers as often because the studs penetrate icy trails creating the snow-dust required to cool the machine. On the other hand, any snowmobile with a 1 ¾ or larger lug track will require scratchers much more often while trail riding as they do not pick as much snow up for lubrication and cooling.
Snowmobile ice scratchers are a very important accessory for many snowmobilers to keep their machine from over-heating and to keep lubrication in the skid. They are good peace of mind as today’s trails cover large areas and many levels of elevation. This means that during a full day of riding, you may encounter various snow conditions throughout your trip. Many scratchers flip up into a holder or sit on the skid rail when not needed, so you will always be prepared when the snow gets low.