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Tips for Building a Single-Pole Skiing Sled

by: Tim Kelley


I've been asked a lot of  times for tips on how I make my single-pole skiing sleds.  So ... I made this web page to answer such questions.  I've been making and using single-pole sleds for my ski trips for over twenty years now.  I've used single-pole sleds for overnight trips, ultra-ski racing, skiing Alaskan long distance dog sled trails (like the Iditarod, Quest, Kobuk and Kusko) and backcountry trips in the mountains.  I like single-pole sleds for skiing because you don't have any interference with your ski poles like you can have with double-pole sleds.  And with the universal joint on the hip belt you have a greater freedom of motion for your torso than with a double pole sled, which makes it more comfortable.  I won't claim that single-pole sleds are perfect, they surely have their limitations.  But they are the only type of sled that I like to ski with.

I should point out that on this web page I am simply giving tips.  I am not detailing how to make a single-pole sled.  I strongly believe that skiers should put their own effort in designing and building their ski trip sleds.  Why?  Because when your sled breaks out in the middle of nowhere ... you will know how to fix the sled and get to your destination if you were the one that built it.  (And if you were the one that designed the sled and it breaks on you ... then you can't blame me! ;-)  )

With the sleds that I build, I try to use parts that are readily available, and not parts that take a lot of fabrication to create.  And I try to keep the sled simple and tailored to the type of ski trip I will be using it for.  So - this design works for me ...

Sled

The first order of business is to obtain a plastic sled.  The sled should be designed so that it tracks straight, rides up over and doesn't plow through soft snow, holds the amount of gear you intend to bring and has a lip on the front to mount your hitch hardware.  My favorite sled is made by SLM (Saint Lawrence Manufacturing) in Canada.  But unfortunately, these perfectly shaped sleds that once were sold for 10 dollars a piece in sports and grocery stores in the 80's and 90's are no longer made.  So you will have to search to find something that will work for you.

To protect the plastic on the bottom of the sled from ice and rocks I attach dog sled runners to the base of the sled.  I do this by using the QCR (Quick Change Runner) runner system.  Mushing supply stores or web sites will have access to QCR or the equivalent.  The end result with QCR are plastic runners with no holes or screws showing on the base.

Here is the bottom of a finished sled.  You can see the hitch attachment on the lip of the sled and the installed QCR runners. Here are examples of an ultra-ski racing sled, a several day sled and an expedition sled. For longer trips where there is no re-supply for many days I use longer sleds.  This one is two sleds back to back that are pop-riveted together.
Hitch and Harness

The single-pole aspect of this sled is defined in the hitch and harnessing arrangement.  Attached to the sled is a rigid pivot that moves up and down.  I make this using Hollaender "Speed Rail" parts.  These are parts that are used to make metal railing like you might see for industrial hand rails.  You can buy them off the web.   Alaskans should be able to buy Speed Rail parts, and aluminum pipe, at Alaska Steel in Anchorage or Fairbanks.  A six foot section of aluminum tubing is used to run from the hitch to the harness.  Aluminum tubing can be bought at local hardware stores.

The six foot pole is attached on the other end to a universal joint that is connected to a hip belt.  For a universal joint - I use a metal sheetrock pole sander head.  I modify the connector of the pole sander had to fit the tubing (see below).  I then pop rivet the sanding head to a weight lifting belt.  I like weigh lifting belts for this application instead of packframe hip belts, they are more comfortable and easier to attach the sander head to.

Here you can see two Speed Rail triangular flange bases attached to the lip of the sled.  A Speed Rail tee is attached to a piece of 3/4 inch (inside diameter) pipe that runs through the flanges.  Out of the tee runs a short section of 3/4 inch pipe that a six foot long section of 3/4 inch (outside diameter) aluminum tubing runs into.   The pipe between the flanges and that coming out of the tee are held in place by set screws in the Speed Rail parts.  The six foot tube is connected to the tee extension pipe by use of a clevis pin.  As you see, I use a small tether on the friction clip that goes through the clevis pin - so I don't lose the clip in the snow when I have to take the hitch apart.

Here you can see a piece of white plastic I used to reinforce the sled tip.  This helps keep the sled tip from cracking or breaking in situations when the sled is stressed heavily.  (If you want to get really fancy - you can reinforce the sled lip with carbon fiber like the picture of the green sled up higher on this web page).  For fastener hardware I use stainless steel.  And the nuts are all nylon lock nuts so they don't jiggle loose.

For a waist belt, I like to use nylon weight lifting belts.  The nylon webbing that goes around the belt is great for attaching the pole sander head.  Above (on the left) you can see the metal pole sander head pop riveted to the waist belt.  On the photo above and to the right you can see how the attachment of the aluminum tubing to the sander head works.  The aluminum tubing slides over the threaded stub of sander head (note: you may have to grind down the threads to make the tubing slide over the stub).  Covering the the tubing I make a sleeve from aluminum pipe.  This gives extra strength to the connection (I've never had this part break or fail, at least not yet!).  Through the sleeve, the tubing and the pole sander connection stub I drill a hole and connect it all together with a clevis pin.

Bag

I custom sew sled bags for my sled.  I've seen people use duffle bags before, but the problem with them is that snow can load around their edges, fill into the sled and make your load heavier and wetter.  I use cordura nylon and basically sew up a bottomless duffel bag the size of the sled.  The "slipperier" the finish on the fabric the better, as snow will shed from it easier.  I attach the bag to the sled by rolling the fabric over the edge of the sled and then using pop rivets with nylon webbing for reinforcement.  I also fasten on nylon webbing cinch straps so the load can be stabilized.  The fabric on the front of the bag is clamped under the sled hitch.

Here is an example sled bag, attached to a plastic sled.  A heavy duty zipper, with a flap over it, runs the length of the bag.  You can see the cinch straps and neoprene loops for carrying an extra ski. This photo shows more detail of the pop rivets and nylon webbing that holds the bag to the sled. A very important part of the sled bag is a small pocket near the front of the sled.  This is where you put repair items (extra screws, bolts, washers, nuts, clevis pins and clips, cotter pins, wire, cord, small wrench and Leatherman tool).
Single-Pole Skiing Sleds in Action ...
On the Susitna Valley Winter Trail.  You can distribute weight between a small pack and your ski sled as I'm doing here.  This arrangement also works well when in mountainous terrain when you have more side-hills. Bob Baker, and the single-pole sled he made, lets a dog team pass on the Yukon River. Bob Baker, skiing the Yukon Quest, shows why dog sled runners are good to have on plastic sleds.  You never know when you will have to drag the sled over rocks and ice.  This dirt and rock section, thanks to gold miners moving equipment, was 30 miles long. Bucking a headwind on the Yukon River while skiing the Yukon Quest Trail.
Tim Miller with a sled I built on the Kobuk 440 trail.  On hard trails these sleds can fishtail a bit when you skate. Here I am fixing a broken sled pole near Selawik, AK.  I had to drill new holes in the aluminum tubing with a Leatherman tool awl.  The fix only took 10 minutes because I was prepared for it.  You should be ready to fix your sled when it breaks. Tim Miller pulling a single-pole sled across the Brooks Range.  These sleds don't track well on glare ice when you make sudden turns ... but it's doubtful a light sled of any design would handle this.
Here I pull a single-pole sled into a light breeze near Unalakleet on the Iditarod Trail. On an Iditarod Trail covered in volcanic ash.  Note the spare ski poles attached to the sled pole with velcro straps. Camping in the willows on the Kuskokwim River downriver from Kalskag.  Often I unload my sled in the tent and sleep on top of it.  Even if the sled only fits under your butt-to-head area, the flat surface above the snow lets you sleep better. It's good to make sure your sled has ample attachments for carrying gear on top of the sled if you need too.  Or to carry out cool stuff you may find.
Add reflective tape to your sled and equipment if you are skiing at night on snowmobile trails. Some people don't like sleds and prefer to use packs alone.  This is always an option.  Here Audun Endestadt heads across the Wrangell Mountains with a large pack (while Art Ward and I split our loads between a pack and sled). Bob Baker on the Yukon Quest Trail ... pulling a single-pole sled 1000 miles to get to his home in Fairbanks.
Pulling full sleds across the North Slope of Alaska.  10+ days without re-supply and camping in -40 F takes a lot of food and gear. Sled hitch poles also double as good "cooking pot poles" ... for melting snow for water over fires. Skiing sleds help you to celebrate winter, meet unique people ... ... and ski to cool places.
 
For the stories behind the above pictures ... check out my Kindle ebook on Amazon or my Apple iTunes ebook.
 
So there you go.  Now you should have enough information to build a single-pole skiing sled.  Now build one and go on a ski trip to someplace cool !!

 

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