Snow Dogs win second

Mar 22, 2006

The Kettering Clean Snowmobile Challenge team put a lot of hard work into their sled and it paid off.

Sleeping on the floor and living on a diet of sugar and caffeine seems to have worked for the Kettering Clean Snowmobile Challenge team. They tied for second place with the University of Minnesota at Duluth at the seventh annual Society of Automotive Engineers Clean Snowmobile Challenge March 13 to 18 at the Keweenaw Research Center of Michigan Technological University (MTU) in Houghton, Michigan.

"The points were so close between us and the team ahead of us (1,033 to 1,031), the judges decided to call it a tie for second place," said Chad Swartz of Standish, Mich., and team co-captain with Jason Sanger, of Ankeny, Iowa.

The Snow Dogs competed against 13 other student teams from universities in the U.S. and Canada to during the six-day event, with snowmobiles re-designed to "Beat the Standards." The standards are the federal emissions standards that go into effect in 2012. Each team has modified their stock sled to reduce noise and emissions levels.

"We completed all the events and managed to always finish well but not win the event," said Swartz of their performance. "We did have two problems with sensors on the sled that had us working frantically to find the solution. Both times we were able to get the problems fixed before the next event," he said.

"During acceleration we came out of the hole hard and carried the skies in the air for the first 75 feet, and in the handling course, there were lots of moguls and tight turns. When I was coming out of one of the turns I hit the throttle and the seat popped off, so I finished the run with no seat," Swartz said.

The Kettering team was excited about their machine prior to the competition. The sled, a re-engineered Polaris FST Switchback was entirely new to the team this year. Teams are allowed to "recycle" machines from year to year if they have a certain amount ofengineering modifications from previous year.

"We started from scratch this year," said team co-captain Chad Swartz, of Standish, Mich., "our main design strategy was to optimize emissions by incorporating ethanol E85 (a bio-fuel) and a fuel injector and two catalytic converters," he said.

Their first major test was a 100-mile endurance run on Tuesday of the competition. A blizzard in Michigan's Upper Peninsula on Monday laid down nearly three feet of fresh snow, improving conditions for the sleds. Drivers of the fuel-powered snowmobiles reported smooth sledding during the endurance run.

The University of Wisconsin at Madison won the 2006 SAE Clean Snowmobile Challenge internal combustion division while the Utah State University's electric sled won in the Challenge's new zero-emissions division.

Clean Snowmobile Challenge is an intercollegiate engineering design competition that challenges engineering students to re-engineer an existing snowmobile for improved emissions and noise while maintaining or improving the performance characteristics of the original snowmobile. The modified snowmobiles are also expected to be cost-effective.

Representatives from both the National Park Service and the USDA Forest Service were on hand at the awards presentations Saturday to underscore their support of the Clean Snowmobile Challenge.

"This has meant a tremendous amount to Yellowstone National Park," said Jack Evanoff, the park's environmental manager. Snowmobile emissions at the park, which have been at the heart of a major controversy, have plummeted in the seven years since the first Clean Snowmobile Challenge, he said.

"As the world's foremost provider of outdoor recreation, we have a desire for a clean, quiet experience for all of our users, including those who ride our snowmobile trail systems," said Leon LaVigne, recreation program manager for the forest service's Eastern Region. "TheCSC is a real-life example of using new, creative approaches to working together toward improving the quality of a great recreational activity and, at the same time, improving environmental quality."

Kettering's Clean Snow team is already looking forward to next year when they can build a better sled based on what they learned this year.

Written by Dawn Hibbard with information provided by University Communications at Michigan Technological University.