Eight Sleds Complete Endurance Run

By Marcia Goodrich | Published

Come the ides of March, nothing puts a smile on Jay Meldrum's face like the words "winter storm warning."

"It's perfect," he beamed. "The groomers are running from Mohawk to Copper Harbor."

Fourteen teams of students from universities across the U.S. and Canada have converged at Michigan Tech's Keweenaw Research Center for the SAE Clean Snowmobile", Snowmobile Challenge, which runs through Saturday, March 18.

The Clean Snowmobile Challenge is the Society of Automotive Engineers' newest collegiate design competition. Teams of engineering students from participating schools take a stock snowmobile and reengineer it to reduce emissions and noise while maintaining or improving performance.

Their first major test was Tuesday's 100-mile endurance run, and after a week of balmy weather, even the Keweenaw Peninsula's legendary snowpack was feeling the heat.

But after Monday's blizzard, which laid down nearly three feet of snow, there wasn't much to complain about. "The trails are good," said Meldrum, director of the Keweenaw Research Center and Challenge organizer. "There are a few mushy spots, but the sleds will get through them."

And they did. Eight of the 12 fuel-powered entries finished the trek up the peninsula to Copper Harbor, about as far north as Michigan gets. The finishers were Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y., Kettering University in Flint, Michigan Tech, the University of Wisconsin at Platteville, the University of Minnesota at Duluth, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, the University of Idaho, and Ecole De Technologie Superieure in Montreal, Canada.

A handful of sleds dropped out of the endurance run early. Minnesota State University at Mankato, the University of New Hampshire and the University of Maine pulled out with problems relating to overheating. Last year's Challenge winner, the State University of New York at Buffalo, had engine problems as the endurance run began and was unable to compete.

This year, two all-electric sleds are competing in the new zero-emissions category and attempted a 10-mile course. McGill University in Montreal completed 7.2 miles, with Utah State University traveling 9.5 miles without a stop.

Drivers of the fuel-powered snowmobiles reported smooth sledding during the endurance run. "It was great," said Mike Ryba, driver of Michigan Tech's machine. "Awesome conditions. You couldn't ask for a better day, and the sled ran great."

Clarkson's Scott Stewart described the trails as excellent. "And the sled ran good," he added. "It didn't break."

The competition continues this week. The public is encouraged to see the sleds up close and talk with their designers at the static display, set for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Houghton Fire Hall, located on the corner Gundlach Street and Sharon Avenue.

The Challenge concludes Saturday with the handling and acceleration events at the Keweenaw Research Center.

The acceleration tests begin at 10 a.m., with the handling event following at 11 a.m. Wear warm clothing and be prepared to walk to the test site.

Everyone is welcome to attend the awards banquet, which begins at 6 p.m. Saturday in Michigan Tech's Memorial Union Ballroom. Tickets are $25 and are available from Lori Witting of Michigan Tech's Conferences and Institutes office, 370-3109. The deadline for purchasing tickets is noon on Friday.

The SAE Clean Snowmobile Challenge is sponsored at Michigan Tech by the Keweenaw Research Center and the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 60 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.