While walking the dog this morning my wife and I came across an area of crusted snow where I could barely walk on the surface, but my wife and the dog could scamper along quite nicely. The grass lay about 6″ below the crust.

Out of curiosity I drove the 2004 Ranger TM over the same surface. The Ranger weighs 1050 pounds, plus driver, and is equipped with the factory standard knobby tires. It dropped to the bottom early and spun its way along the frozen grass below the crust for the entire run up a slope and across the four-acre field. Without the differential lock the Ranger probably would have been unable to continue, but with it the 2WD utility vehicle gave a good account of itself.

Then I wondered if my 17 hp diesel 4WD tractor would do any better. The 1981 Bolens/Iseki is equipped with turf tires in good condition, three suitcase weights on the front (240 pounds) and a dump box on the hitch at the rear (100 lb). Total weight is about 1500 pounds, plus driver. Because I have observed best traction in 3rd gear, high range, I set it at half throttle and made a new set of tracks up the knoll in the field. The Bolens emitted more black smoke than I have seen from it before, but it pawed through the crusted snow without spinning. At the end of the run I also smelled Prestone for the first time with this tractor, so the engine had been labouring. In second gear, high range, I repeated the run with similar traction and no engine labouring, so I guess I had selected the wrong gear and relied upon the engine’s torque to pull it through. This may be unnecessary.

Which of these machines would I use for a run across a lake with an unknown snow cover? Neither, though both had adequate ground clearance for the task. My Toyota Tacoma 4WD in 4th gear, low range is better in snow than either of these vehicles. Many times I have planed over deep snow by taking a run at it and relying upon its 2.7 litre four to pull it through.

The surprise in the test was the Ranger TM, which keeps up with 4WDs using only its differential lock for traction. It’s a capable machine, though no 4WD pickup.

My dog’s feet seemed to have the best flotation on crusted snow of all items tested, followed by those of my wife. My own boots fell through too readily for my comfort, but they still floated on the crust better than the vehicles.

Snowshoes still have their place.

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