Vail groomer shows off his 1963 snowcat
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado ” “That’s a nice cat you got there,” said a skier on his way past Mid-Vail Wednesday afternoon.
“It’s definitely a conversation piece,” said Mark Delpiere of his 1963 Tucker Sno-Cat.
Delpiere, a snow grooming foreman at Vail Mountain, put his 46-year-old bright orange restored snowcat on display at Mid-Vail Tuesday and Wednesday. The cat was parked next to two modern groomers as part of an educational display for safety week.
Delpiere found the cat for sale on eBay last spring and had to have it. He spent months restoring it and finally finished in October.
“It was parked at my house all summer,” Delpiere said. “The question I always got was ‘Does it run?’ ” it runs pretty well, now.”
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The machine has three doors ” one on each side and one on the back. It can seat eight people, if necessary. Delpiere compares the cabin to that of an old pickup truck or the inside of a small two-seater airplane. The whole vehicle only weighs about 4,200 pounds, which helps it float in snow.
“It does well in deep powder,” said Delpiere, who uses it to travel the backcountry around Shrine Pass. “I’ve gotten out of it and sunk up to my waist in snow.”
The cat has four gears and no foot brake. It does have a hand brake, but that’s really only good for emergencies, Delpiere said. Delpiere doesn’t have much trouble controlling the speed of the vehicle with the gears ” he first learned how to drive a manual transmission on a snowcat in high school.
“It can get interesting on a steep hill,” he said.
The 115-horsepower engine gets Delpiere about three miles per gallon. He doesn’t take it too far, though.
“I could use it for backcountry skiing, but I just take it out,” he said. “It’s my version of a Jeep.”
It’s not uncommon to see old snowcats, said Justin Henderson, curator of the Colorado Ski and Snowboard museum in Vail. But they’re more likely to be found in a backyard than in the backcountry, Henderson said.
“You see them, but you don’t see a lot of them running and functional,” Henderson said. “It’s pretty cool he managed to do the restoration work and get it up and running.”
Snowcat technology started to take off in the ’60s, said Henderson.
Tucker was making about 40 or 50 snowcats a year in the ’60s, said Dan Dressler, who works for the Oregon-based company. Dressler said it’s unusual, but no unheard of, for someone to have a 1963 Tucker Sno-Cat up and running.
“There are a few that go all the way and restore the whole thing. It’s fairly unheard of,” Dressler said. “The best comparison might be like a ’56 or ’57 Chevy.”
One of the big obstacles in getting a snowcat made in the 60s up and running again is that the company stopped making the parts for it 25 years ago, Dressler said.
Delpiere was able to find a lot of the parts he needed for it on eBay.
Larry Knoll, who works with Delpiere, said the cat is similar to the ones he remembers growing up.
“It reminds me of the first cat I drove,” he said.
Even though Delpiere’s 1963 Sno-Cat might not be the most efficient vehicle to use to groom Vail’s slopes, if he had the right equipment, Delpiere said, he’d use it in a heartbeat.
“If I had a roller and a dig, I’d groom tonight,” Delpiere said.
Staff Writer Chris Outcalt can be reached at 970-748-2931 or firstname.lastname@example.org.