Rail Length vs. Cleat Height: Which is Best for You? (2023)

In a world where track length and mountain sledding heights have steadily increased, and with so many options available today, it's...Rail Length vs. Cleat Height: Which is Best for You? (1)

In a world where trail length and mountain sledding heights are constantly increasing, and with so many options available today, snowmobilers are asking, "What's right for me?" Choosing the right runway length and handle height for your skiing style and snow conditions is critical to sledding satisfaction. What one person considers ideal may not suit the next. So let's shed some light on this topic to help you with your purchasing decision.

Rail Length vs. Cleat Height: Which is Best for You? (2)

The 153/154/155 runway length is what we call the "short runway" of the true mountain family. These days anything shorter is a length of cross sled track. It is very agile and offers more track speed than the longer versions. We found this length to be super fun, especially in the narrow trees and at the bottom of streams. You can usually raise the front end of the slide to your liking by simply tapping the throttle and pulling the bars back a bit. Split-second decisions are easy to make when navigating tight terrain, but in deep snow this length requires you to carry and maintain more momentum as it lacks buoyancy compared to the longer lengths.

Rail Length vs. Cleat Height: Which is Best for You? (3)

2018 M8000 Mtn Cat 153″

The lack of this track length occurs on long, steep trains or on slopes. On a long, steep pull in soft snow, the front comes up more easily and we found that on this stretch of trail we have to push forward to try and keep the front down and keep the sled from digging in during the climb to keep. Now, in more difficult snow conditions, such as in the spring (snow with enough water content to almost snowball and with a harder base 18 inches from it), this length can be an advantage as it increases the rail speed than can propel a sled faster up a steep hill. On long, steep descents, this length tends to "empty" more easily, meaning the track tends to twist downwards, leaving the sled pointing straight up and leaving the rider wondering why it got stuck. Driver skill and foot placement can help overcome this, but it's more difficult over this long distance.

Rail Length vs. Cleat Height: Which is Best for You? (4)

2018 Pro RMK 163″

The track length of 162/163/165 inches is what we consider to be the heart of the market (at least for the deep dry powder found at Intermountain West). This is often considered to provide the perfect combination of buoyancy and maneuverability. While not as nimble as the shorter runs, the difference in maneuverability in deep snow (40+ inches of fresh and dry snow) is significant. Additionally, this length provides a more stable platform for long, steep climbs as it keeps the front end down without requiring you to shift your body weight too far above the bars. And on those long, steep slopes, this length allows the rider to be a little lazier with foot placement without a tendency to "wash". Still, it's still short enough to hook a dime or jump off the creek bottom with the right inputs. It doesn't offer the track speed of the shorter versions in spring snowy conditions, but it's a trade-off we're willing to make as we're always looking for that light, dry, deep powder and that's what we want our sleds to do best in these snow conditions too.

Rail Length vs. Cleat Height: Which is Best for You? (5)

2018 Summit X 175″

Track length of 174/175 inches provides unmatched flotation and stability. Simply put, you have a larger footprint for even more buoyancy (think big snowshoes). When the snow gets deep (i.e. waist deep or better), this is the trail you want. It's hard to keep track of that. It climbs anything where snow gets stuck without the tip of the sled going up or digging. Plus, it clings to a side slope like no other without "washing" unless you do it on purpose. That trail length lets you slow down, pick your line, and tackle rough terrain where you get stuck on shorter trails. Where it lacks, however, is the agility department. Turning takes longer, so sometimes you have to slow down a bit and give the driver more information. It is also not as agile at the bottom of the creek and not as fast in spring snow conditions as the current speed is slower. Where we see this adaptation is with two uniquely different drivers. The experienced rider, always in search of the deepest snow known to man, is evident. What's not so obvious is for the beginner to intermediate rider who lacks the skill and experience to go fast in tight terrain, but wants to get to the same places as their more experienced friends. That track length allows him to slow down and tackle this technical terrain at a more comfortable pace. This track allows the pilot to stop, find balance or choose the line, and sometimes take off even when pointing upwards. It's an ultimate track length for beginners and perfect for the experienced rider.

Rail Length vs. Cleat Height: Which is Best for You? (6)

2,5/2,6" versus 3" Stollenhöhe
Today's real mountain trails are 2.5 to 3 inches tall. Bigger is always better... right? The answer is not so simple as it depends more on the snow conditions in your area and how far you have to go on a trail to get to the depth.

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PowderMax II 2,5″

2.5/2.6 inch handle height is best for all seasons. This elevation tends to handle snow well in most conditions. In hard snow or spring snow conditions, it's better than the 3" shoulder because it doesn't tend to turn as easily, but penetrates and bites. It performs well in light, dry, and deep powder, but those are the conditions. where its 3-inch counterpart shines. On a cool foot or in drier powder, we've found that the 3-inch lug has the advantage of being able to remove more snow and propel the sled forward rather than just turning. sleds perform the best in these conditions, most of the time we choose to fit our sleds with 3" rails.

Rail Length vs. Cleat Height: Which is Best for You? (8)

Yamaha Viper – Lug de 3″

Rail Length vs. Cleat Height: Which is Best for You? (9)

Powerclaw 3.0″

Well, there are some traps with 3-inch locking rails. If you have to run the trail for more than a few miles to get to the good snow, be very careful not to overheat the trail or the Hyfax. The longer shoulders lift the chain belt further from the snow, allowing less snow to enter the Hyfax to cool it and the chain. We've all seen chains with bumps, and this is usually caused by the chain overheating. It is important to use the ice scrapers (below) when there is an inch or less of fresh snow on the trail (if in any doubt, place the ice scrapers on the trail). Running at high speeds (60 mph or more) for extended periods of time can cause drag even on 3-inch track models. Slow down regularly and dip into the deeper snow at the side of the trail whenever possible.

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pilot weight
The rider's weight also needs to be considered when choosing chain length and heel height. I weigh around 220lbs. For lighter riders under 180 pounds, the shorter chains and shorter lug heights may be more beneficial as the downsides are reduced simply due to the rider's weight. For heavier riders, 250 pounds or more, longer, deeper trails are typically considered beneficial. Rider size is also important as a taller rider acts like a longer lever when leaning the sled, making it better suited for longer sleds as it is easier to use.

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snow conditions
The snow conditions on which we base our opinion refer primarily to the light, dry snow found in the western Intermountain. In heavier snow conditions in Oregon, Washington and some locations in British Columbia, Canada, you may find that you like the 2.5/2.6 inch handle height better. Bigger bumps work best on drier snow, lower bumps work better on wetter snow.

By Jerry Matthews, SnowTech Western Test Team

Rail Length vs. Cleat Height: Which is Best for You? (12)

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