Traction and Control in depth

History of tech that makes trail riding better
The “Traction and Control” business has been an important part of the snowmobile industry since the very early 70s. Early snowmobilers usually ran in deep snow off-trail conditions, because, well there simply was not a trail system established yet.

As soon as groomed trails and ice-covered race tracks took shape, a search for products that could improve control on the harder more slippery surfaces became a necessity for both racers and trail riders. This became even more of a necessity when sliderail suspensions and cleated tracks became more of a standard. Unstudded cleated tracks were unpredictable “skates” as soon as they hit ice.

The first attempts into more predictable traction were to grind ¼” bolts and install them into the cleats with washers. Next came the “Hilti” construction nails which were sharp, skinny and light. All this and more finally morphed into machined steel studs with a ¼” thread that screwed into woodworking T-nuts. This was both easier to install, and the studs could be manufactured in different shapes and lengths to fit individual trail conditions and special race sleds. Studs also could come in stamped shapes, offering more “grip surface” in loose conditions. Popular configurations included the Kalamazoo Kangaroo Claw, the Woody’s Traction Star Stud and the longer Kicker stud that mounted directly under the slide rail for maximum traction pressure!
Ski-Doo MXZx Traction and Control
Grabbing, gripping and getting going is what traction products are all about. Every year we install traction products in many of our demo sleds and if money and time were not factors, every trail sled we ever ride would have studs and carbide runners on it for safety and performance.
■ Generational shift
By the end of the 70s, tracks had gone through a “generation” change in development and most new sleds now came with molded tracks with rubber cross ribs for traction. This meant that the cleats were gone as a convenient place to support your traction products. Where T-nuts had been fine with the added support of the cleat, studs mounted in flexible rubber now needed better support. This lead to large backing plates to take up bending loads. Unfortunately the larger stress on the small T-nuts also meant that a lot of them loosened up or tore through the track rubber, and loose studs littered the trail and race tracks as they fell out. The answer was a new category of studs often referred to as the “push-through” stud. On these studs, a large head was part of the stud’s base. This head was also shaped to capture the track rubber and make it more difficult to tear through the track.

These new studs were pushed through from the inside of the track, and then held in place by an aluminum or steel backing plate fastened by a Nyloc nut. This was a solid setup and ended problems with torn tracks and lost studs. Today’s trail products are almost all push-through design, only racers still use some T-nut and steel picks because of the lighter weight and better acceleration. The difference between a race track using push-throughs or lighter steel studs can be as much as two pounds. Drag racers look for every advantage, while oval racers and sno-cross racers prefer to keep their studs in their tracks until the end of the race.

Straight steel studs, although heat-treated and hardened, lose their sharp tip after awhile, especially when used crossing roads and paved parking lots. The answer to this problem was the carbide tipped trail studs you see today, first pioneered by Woody’s Traction. This was no longer just a screw machined product, but required high tech automated brazing ovens to solder the carbide tips in place with special silver braze. Obviously this made the studs more expensive, but the carbide studs easily outlasted steel studs by a large margin. Trail riders soon found them to be a good value when they lasted for many seasons of riding.

Up until the late 1990s, the standard track rib height was only 5/8-inch. With the increased interest in mountain machines and crossover off-trail riding, special tracks with taller ribs for more traction in loose snow became available in sizes all the way up to three-inch tall “paddles.” This offered a new challenge to the traction industry. Average rib height is now around 1.5-inches, with 1.25 being a popular all-around design. This requires longer studs, which in return means larger bending forces.

To prevent too much bending, new backing plate designs were introduced to deal with the problems. Double side-by-side backing plates prevented too much bending in corners, and backing plates with a shoulder mounted against the rib also kept the stud straighter when applying power. All that adds weight, and some traction manufacturers now offer a large selection of backing plates in both aluminum and plastic. Back in the 1970s there were actually even lighter backing plates made out of titanium, but they proved to be too expensive, and only slightly better than the aluminum ones.
Woody's Gold Digger Traction Master
Check out woody’s gold digger traction master stud (for two-ply tracks) and the Grand Master stud (for single-ply tracks). Also many trail folks drool over the added grip and easy cornering ability of Woody’s Slim Jim runners (shown below).
Woody's Gold Digger Traction Master
Woody's Slim Jim runners
■ Let’s talk installation
The biggest argument against studs is the time and effort required to mount them. Not only is it hard work, but also time consuming, especially if the track is on the sled. It is far easier to do it with the track out of the sled laying in whatever configuration is easiest for you. Not only do you have to drill the hole for the stud in the track, but you need to use a special rubber hole cutter that gives you a hole with clean edges, as compared to ripping through the track with a regular drill. You also have to develop a practical pattern that misses drive lugs and support wheels, or you may find them chewed up very quickly. Fortunately all the traction companies have recommended patterns for your make and model sled, and also sell pattern templates that you can lay directly on the track and mark up your pattern.

I highly recommend templates. They don’t cost much, cut installation time way down compared to measuring out the pattern by hand between every rib, and are designed to miss the important wheels and drive cogs. Many newer sleds also have adequate clearance to the tunnel and tunnel guards already installed. I suggest checking with your dealer to make SURE you don’t need tunnel protectors. Even though it may look like the heat exchangers underneath are protected, the OEM may still recommend stud protectors.

If you have older sleds, there are several problem areas as far as installation is concerned. Many 80s and 90s sleds had limited tunnel clearance, so tunnel guards are a must. You do not want studs ripping through your tunnel, or your gas tank. I’ve seen this happen to people who are then stranded, without gas and a wrecked tunnel. Front coolers (or heat exchangers) can also be worn through resulting in a catastrophic loss of cooling fluid, without proper stud guards. Another not-so-critical but still irritating defect is ripped up snow flaps that eventually get pulled into the tunnel by the studded track. A newer mounting system keeping the snow flap away from the studded track is a good idea.
Stud Boy Super-Lite Pro Series Backers
Stud Boy offers more options New colors for 2018 Stud Boy Super-Lite Pro Series Backers
■ Studs as a factory option
So why don’t tracks come studded from the factory as an option? Fear of liability lawsuits over possible injuries and performance issues have kept manufacturers out of the studded OEM track market. This has helped the traction industry stay healthy, as the manufacturers also offer studs from the various traction companies in their catalogues. The big difference liability-wise is that if you install them yourself, they are not liable for any consequent problems.

There are however “pre-studded” tracks that seem to meet the OEM’s standards. Camso offers the Ice Ripper track, as a unique design that incorporates some stud performance similar to aftermarket carbide studs. The Camso Ice Ripper has molded-in lugs with small carbide automotive car studs mounted in them. This stud does not protrude very far, and should not harm a user excessively by contact. As a result, they are not as effective in traction and stopping as aftermarket studs, but they offer a reassuring amount of stopping power on hard ice compared to no studs at all.

The Ice Ripper track is now offered on several Ski-Doo models from the factory (and has been for several years). It is a good value if you want a margin of safety on hard ice, but would hate to actually go through the effort of installing aftermarket studs yourself. Driving with a studded track is not only a performance issue, it is a large safety item too. Personally I would always prefer a studded track, especially on ice covered trails or when you need to stop quickly before a road crossing or in a corner where hundreds of other sledders have left the braking or acceleration area a slippery ice patch.

Any traction package is not complete unless it is matched with a well balanced set of ski-runners, but that is a separate issue we actually covered last year with our ski-comparo (January 2017, pg. 56). You are in great shape on the ski-runner front, because all the traction companies also offer a great selection of runners to go with your traction package. Make sure you have both issues covered for a safe and fun trip this winter.
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