The Best Tow System for sled skiing

November 1, yyyy

Will be running this year? whether you should buy a season pass? what your alternatives are? If you’re already a backcountry skier, you’re probably worried about crowds. Maybe it’s time to consider picking up a snowmobile so you can get further out than the rest of the pack. Here’s a primer on how to set up a sled-skiing tow system and which sleds to buy for hauling you and your friends into remote backcountry stashes.

Like many diehard skiers, you might be wondering if the lifts will be running this year, whether you should buy a season pass, and what your alternatives are. If you’re already a backcountry skier, you’re probably worried about crowds. Maybe it’s time to consider picking up a snowmobile so you can get further out than the rest of the pack. Here’s a primer on how to set up a sled-skiing tow system and which sleds to buy for hauling you and your friends into remote backcountry stashes.


It works, we swear by it! Simple, inexpensive and easy to build.

The Benefits of this design.

  • -Self-releasing system. You fall or want out? Just let go of the rope and it self-releases.
  • -Takes the strain off shoulders and arms with a 3:1 mechanical advantage. Pulls from your waist, not your arm.
  • -Helps absorb the shock of rope slack or speed surges.
  • -Only need one hand to hold on. Frees up the other hand to carry poles.
  • -Inexpensive.
  • -Works for everyone.
  • -Easy to store and doesn’t take up much room. Fits easily in BCA MtnPro tunnel bag.

Materials:

  • 7-9mm cord. 32-33” in length.
  • 1 carabiner
  • 1 locking carabiner.
  • Mountain bike inner tube. Depending on your girth: 26”, 27.5”, or 29”

*May need a heavy duty rear bumper on your snowmobile, depending on brand, model and towed person’s weight. We warned you. Not suggested for tying off to stock Polaris carbon fiber rear bumper.

**Have a good snow flap on the sled, so those being towed don’t get pelted with snow and ice. If you’re getting towed, wear face protection, even with a good snow flap.

How to build:

  • Put a figure eight on a bight at one end of the cord. Google it. There’s an app for that: Knots 3D. This end of the cord will go around the bumper and the rest of cord will be feed through the loop and laid out behind the snowmobile.
  • 4’ from the other end of the rope, put in a butterfly knot. The locking carabiner goes on the butterfly knot.

How the system works:

  • Double over the inner tube, wrap around your waist and secure with a carabiner.
  • Take the line from the snowmobile and put it through the carabiner securing the innertube, the line then goes out and through the carabiner on the butterfly knot and back to you. You have just created a 3:1 mechanical advantage and it takes little effort to hold onto the tail of the rope. Lock the carabiner, so it doesn’t bounce off the system when the rope is dropped.
  • One wrap with the rope around the hand is sufficient to help hold the tail of the rope. Any more than that can prevent self-releasing of the system and you could end up being dragged for miles.

Hand signals:

We use some basic hand signals to let the towed person know what to do when being pulled.

  • “Cut” -- driver runs hand horizontally across in front of their neck to let the person know to release from the system.
  • “Tuck in” -- Driver uses arm to signify to the towed person that they need to tuck in behind the snowmobile due to oncoming vehicle.

  • Don’t forget to glance back often to see how the towed person is doing. BC Link radios can help with this.

  • Explain to the towed person that they should release if they feel the snowmobile is getting stuck.

How to use:

  • Take the slack out of the rope before taking off. Accelerate gradually. We like to tow at 24-29mph depending on terrain and person. It’s up to you after that.
  • Get momentum with the snowmobile before any hills.
  • Feather the throttle if losing traction. Keep your weight back on the running boards for increased traction when climbing.
  • Best to turn out on flat sections and have towed people release before turn out.
  • I like to use an old drive belt for towing, especially when towing two people. Why put more wear on an expensive new belt? When not being used, it can be stored in the BCA MtnPro Tunnel Bag, which works on all snowmobile brands.


What sled should you get if you’re new to the sport?

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Bottom line is you don’t want to spend more time and money repairing it, than riding it. Spend a little more money for reliability. Put good gas and oil in it. Read the owner’s manual. Store it properly for the summer. We like to use 800cc and larger machines with tracks 153” or longer. 2.5” track lugs or bigger help with getting traction on climbs.

Here are some suggestions for used sleds:

Arctic Cat M8 2012-present.

Polaris RMK 800 2011-present

Ski-Doo Summit 800 2013-2016. These sleds are extremely reliable and low maintenance. Ski-Doo makes a great ski/snowboard rack that ties into their Linq accessories system.

Yamaha 4 strokes- They run and they run and they run. Find a used Nytro MTX or Apex MTX. Heavy, but reliable.

If you can buy new, do it. All the manufacturers make great sleds. Just know that many people purchase a snowmobile for access to backcountry skiing/boarding and get hooked on snowmobiling. The skis and snowboards often get left in the garage.

A few more tips:

  • Have advanced avalanche training. Snowmobiling and backcountry skiing/snowboarding can expose you to dangerous avalanche terrain quickly. Greater danger requires a higher level of training. Level 1 (U.S.) or AST 1 (Canada) should be the minimum training for everyone in your group. More training = better decisions being made.
  • Have a strong team. Everyone wants to join you for an adventure. Are they an asset or liability?
  • Set the guidelines in advance. Let everyone know expectations, the terrain that is appropriate for the avalanche conditions and how you will manage the group to limit exposure.
  • Have the right gear. Transceiver, shovel, probes, airbags, radios and, most important: knowledge.
  • Do a thorough gear and transceiver check. Act like a professional guide would and check everyone’s gear at the trailhead.

Hope this has been helpful. Have a great winter.