By Oscar "Hank" Will III
Sponsored by Moose Utility Division
Whether you live in town, on a modest acreage, or on an expansive ranch, the modern ATV/UTV is every bit as much a workhorse as it is a recreational ride. And while many folks put their UTVs to bed for winter, many models can still do plenty of work around your place, and do it better than many other pieces of equipment. Sure, you can use your UTV in winter to check on the sheep if the snowdrifts aren’t too tall, or to pull a trailer or a small freight sled for hauling firewood, hay, or feed. But you can also use that machine to keep your pathways, lanes, and corrals relatively snow-free with the right attachment and accessories. The better you manage snow around your place, the more work (and play) you can get out of your UTV when winter settles in.
Your UTV’s snow management skills will depend on the model and its drivetrain. UTVs that are designed for heavier work, as opposed to raw speed, will work best, and although you can push snow with a two-wheel-drive ATV, you can do it with more control and effectiveness with a four-wheel-drive setup. Once you have the workhorse in hand, you need only equip it with a few attachments and accessories to turn it into a formidable snowplow. Be sure to check with the manufacturer to be sure your machine can handle mounted attachments, such as snowplows, to avoid damage or voiding the warrantee. Once you ascertain that your make and model is up to the task, it’s time to consider your attachment options.
Blades of various types and sizes can be mounted to your ATV/UTV, and they typically mount through an undercarriage, receiver-type hitch. Essentially, the blade is attached to the coupler, and the coupler is attached to the UTV through a hinged connection that allows the blade to be raised and lowered. That hinge is usually built into the undercarriage (which you bolt to the UTV’s chassis).
You’ll want to choose a mounting system that’s convenient, robust, and suitable for your make and model of UTV. In general, the undercarriage systems are heavy-duty, and they help distribute the plow’s weight among front and rear frame members to some degree. Undercarriages may be required for UTVs with front sub-frames or bumpers that can’t handle the stress of front-mounted attachments.
To some degree, the snowplow-mounting system you require will be dictated by the snowplow system manufacturer and your UTV specifications. Check with a trusted dealer for options that will work for your specific requirements and situation.
Snowplows haven’t changed much over the years, except with regard to materials and mounting systems. They all make use of a curved moldboard constructed of sheet metal or heavy-duty polymer. In virtually all cases, the bottom edge of the moldboard will have a replaceable cutting edge bolted to it. The cutting edge is often heavy-gauge steel, but it can also be made of a polymer that’s easier on paved surfaces. Many highway snowplows use a polymer cutting edge that scrapes up snow and slush, but is less destructive to the road.
Plowing has the potential to be destructive to the plow vehicle as well as to the surface that’s being plowed, so consider a snowplow system that allows the plow blade to tip or lay over if it encounters too much resistance. That way, if you hit a frozen rock on the lane, the blade will fold up and over it, rather than jerking the ATV to a stop and potentially damaging the vehicle, snowplow-mounting system, or the operator. To avoid further damage to the surface being plowed or to the plow’s cutting edge, choose a model that’s equipped with replaceable skids, which keep the cutting edge from resting directly on the surface being plowed.
You’ll also want to choose a plow that allows the blade to angle left and right so you can drive straight while the snow slides to the side, leaving a clear path behind. There are few instances where you’d want to orient the blade straight, and for those uses, you can add side shields or wings to one or both ends of the moldboard. If you plan to use the blade in an angled orientation, be sure it’s long enough to clear your tires — on both sides — when fully angled.
In rare instances where you’ll mainly plow sidewalks or other relatively narrow pathways, you might choose a V-plow. This attachment looks like a regular snowplow that’s been folded into a V-shape. It is used primarily to open up a path of fixed width by pushing snow from the middle out toward both edges simultaneously. If you work in wider areas, the V-plow will slow you down, unless it’s a foldable version that can be used in a straight or V-shaped configuration.
The art of snowplowing requires not only pushing the blade along the ground, but also lifting it to get it off the ground when it’s not needed — such as when backing, transporting or simply repositioning. Since most ATVs don’t have hydraulic systems, most ATV plow lifts rely on electricity to raise and lower the blade. In most cases, the lift will require a front-mounted 12-volt cable, rope, or strap winch. The winch is mounted to the front of the ATV, and the cable is routed in such a manner as to raise the snowplow with the push of a button. Some snowplow systems require some additional components to route the cable, beyond what’s included with the winch and ATV manufacturer’s winch mount — check with your dealer. Winches are a great investment, even if you don’t need to push snow, but if you do, you’ll get even more value from the winch. In very few cases, you can find snowplows that use some combination of levers, cables, and springs to enable the blade to be raised and lowered by hand. I recommend a winch system whenever possible, because you can keep both hands on the ATV controls, and it’s easier.
In addition to the side guards (mentioned above) that you might choose to enhance the amount of snow you can move in a controlled way, I also recommend tire chains for increased traction — especially in icy, packed snow or softer ground conditions. If you’re lightweight, a 100-pound sandbag on the ATV’s rear rack can also help improve traction. And if you need to push snow in high-traffic areas when visibility is low, install some type of colored strobe light so other vehicles can see you.
Plowing snow is hard work, and even the heaviest-duty machines can be taxed. Pay careful attention to engine, electrical, and transmission maintenance as indicated in the manuals for both the ATV and plow system. And if you make a side business of plowing snow, understand that long hours of the heaviest work will shorten the interval between performing significant drivetrain repairs — so price your services accordingly.
Bio: Hank Will has built snowplows from scratch and made use of tractors, loaders, trucks, ATVs, and UTVs to move it around. He also enjoys getting the most work from the least machinery, and believes that every hour your ATV is working for you is actual return on your initial investment.
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