I'll admit it, I'm in love with Snow Cats. Large ones or small ones it doesn't matter. You see them in ski towns. Climbing the mountain late at night with their headlights on. Making perfectly ribbed alignment of freshly groomed snow. Aaaah sweet soft corduroy. It's feels so special to be the first one to make tracks. Maybe its my inner Mona Lisa Vito (Marisa Tomei's character from 'My Cousin Vinny') that I get a little verklempt discussing anything automotive. I'm a sucker for some hard core engine talk. If you're a gear head maybe this will make you fall in love with snow cats too.
A snowcat is an enclosed-cab, truck-sized, fully tracked vehicle designed to move on snow. Groomers are usually a larger vehicle than a regular snowcat. Snowcats used for snow grooming are also called 'piste machines', 'trail groomers' (in North American English) or 'piste bashers' (in British English) because of their use in preparing ski trails ("pistes") or snowmobile trails. Most snowcats, such as the ones produced by Bombardier or Aktiv in the past, have two sets of tracks, fitted with a Christie suspension or a Vickers suspension. Others, like the Tucker Sno-Cat and Hägglunds Bandvagn 206vehicles, have a complex arrangement of four or more tracks.The tracks are usually made of rubber, aluminum or steel and driven by a single sprocket on each side, and ride over rubber wheels with a solid foam interior. Their design is optimized for a snow surface, or soft grounds such as that of a peat bog. In addition to grooming snow they are used for polar expeditions, logging in marsh areas, leveling sugar beet piles, and seismic studies in the wild.The cabs are optimized for use in sub-zero weather or cold conditions worsened by wind chill, with strong forced heating and a windshield designed to be kept clear of internal and external ice or condensation through a variety of means such as advanced coatings, external scrapers (windshield wipers of a modified type), and internal ducts blowing hot air on the surface.
The name "snowcat" originates from the 1946 trademark by Tucker Sno-Cat Corporation. This specialized over-snow vehicle dominated the snow transportation market until the 1960s when other manufacturers entered the business. By then "snowcat" was such a common description that it was used to describe all over-snow vehicles (see generic trademark). Tucker is also well known for its use of four tracks on its vehicles. Tucker Sno-Cat is arguably the best known of the early manufacturers and remains in business today. Tucker Sno-Cats have been used by numerous military, governmental agencies and utilities.
In 1973, in Breckenridge, Colorado, the term "Snowcat", derived from the snow grooming equipment of the same name, was coined to describe people who migrate to the mountains for the snow and skiing. It became an alternative to the more used "ski bum". Much like the term "Snowbird" was coined to describe those who migrate to warmer climates for the winter. It evolved from a project by marketing students at the University of Tampa (Florida) and is generally attributed to Frank Zedar, who became an avid skier in Breckenridge, after leaving school in Tampa, for military service with the US Army at Ft. Carson, Colorado. While teaching him to ski, his friends warned him to "watch out for the snowcats"..., implying that they were a type of mountain lion. This humorous experience gave birth to the term, as used to describe those who flock to the ski resorts near Denver, Colorado, on weekends.