Snowmobile Training on a Beautiful Day!

Snowmobile Training on a Beautiful Day!

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.


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.


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.


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!


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!


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.


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!


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!


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.


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


11 responses to “Snowmobile Training on a Beautiful Day!

  1. Today’s activities look much more comfortable than the tents. My last class of the day, Purple Puffy Bunnies, has a few more questions from Arlington Heights. We want to know how your research can help make decisions in the future. What happens in the middle of the night if you want to get something and you are in the tent? Does snow ever get in the tent? Can the trenches collapse? Is there other research going on in Antarctica? What is the warmest temperature you ‘ve experienced?
    We really enjoyed your clips and will check in on you regularly.
    Thanks! We’re hoping you can visit our school sometime when you get back!

    • Hi Kim and the students in Purple Puffy Bunnies (love the names of your classes!) The research conducted by scientists on our WISSARD team can help make discoveries about what Antarctica was like in the past during different climate periods. This will help them predict what might happen in the future. Scientists will be looking for microbial life in Lake Whillans. I’m not sure how that will help them to predict the future but I will ask!
      If you need something in the middle of the night and you are in the tent, you would have to get all dressed up in your ECW gear again. What a pain that would be. My boots were COLD in the morning and the thought of getting out of the sleeping bag was not a happy thought. Snow didn’t get into our Scott tent, but I think the people in the expedition tents had snow blow into their tents. Snow seems to blow and creep in just about everywhere. The trenches would not collapse on their own….it is too cold and unless someone stands on them, they are very sturdy. That’s why they make such a great emergency shelter.
      There is heaps of research going on in Antarctica. Scientists are studying astronomy, physics, biology, chemistry, geology, and using many cool tools to conduct their research.
      The warmest temperature I’ve experienced so far has been 39 degrees ABOVE zero. And finally, YES, I’d love to come visit your school when I get back from Antarctica. We’ll set something up for sure! Thanks for all the great questions from Arlington Heights, IL. 🙂

  2. That looked like a super Huey! What a cool experience and and challenging place to fly. I want to go now.

    • I’ll find out more about the helicopters Matt. I know you’d love flying a helo down here. The scenery is gorgeous and so unspoiled. Flying over the Dry Valleys would be your favorite terrain. 🙂 Love you!

  3. The snowmobiles looked a bit more exciting than the freezing, overnight Happy Camper School! I hope you enjoyed riding around 🙂 Would you say a snowmobile is an individual’s main form of transportation out on your WISSARD project?

    • Good question, Linda. We use a variety of methods of transportation to get to/from the WISSARD test site. People are transported back and forth by van, Delta, and mattrack. We will be using snowmobiles, particularly to bring samples back to McMurdo Station..

  4. Were you filming that while operating the snowmobile or were you on back? I guess it is still safer than texting while driving.

  5. hi Seif here did you know that the drilling thing was on the news and your super cool I love snowmobiles too.Even though i’ve neve4r been in one.Also have you ever done like a medium sized jump on a last thing aroung two weeks ago I did all your blogs just so you know I want you to look at it

    • Hi Seif,
      Have you seen my replies to your comments? I’m trying to write back to people each day. I’ve looked at all of your wonderful comments…. thanks so much for being interested in what I’m doing. I didn’t know the drilling project was on the news. We are really busy here! I’ve not done a jump on a snowmobile….either here or anywhere else. I’m not much of a daredevil. I do love to go snowmobiling though. Miss you! Study hard at school. 🙂

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