Building a Winter ATV: The Vision
Modifying your machine for wintertime is no problem with some basic goals in mind. Our wish list included ice fishing, snowy trail riding, the capability to go anywhere on the back 40 and plowing heaps of snow better than a quad with stock tires could manage. Melting it down, the priorities were improved traction, rider warmth, more storage and cargo carrying capacity and cold-weather reliability – because ATV batteries often need help to make it through the cold months.
Our platform was a 2010 Polaris Sportsman X2 550, chosen for its convertible rear seat, comfortable ride, light steering (good for snow) and rear cargo bed, which would be perfect for hauling ice fishing gear, and anything else we’d be carrying along.
Building a Winter ATV: Four-Wheeled Snowmobile
The flakes had already begun accumulating when we finally got motivated. Time was wasting, so we cranked up the heater in our shop and got started on job 1: improving traction.
Stuck, spinning tires and a high-centered chassis are the reasons most ATVs stay parked for months across the Snowbelt. Skinny, non-aggressive stock tires are a lost cause in deep snow, or while pushing heavy snow across an icy driveway. Even four-wheel drive can’t help you through snowy powder.
Options for better traction in snow usually include bolting on wider, mud-specific tires or a track kit. While we’ve tested track kits before, and know they truly let you ride anywhere, we wanted to maintain some sporting ability, light steering and better maneuverability you can only get with upgraded tires.
ITP Studded TundraCross tires added plenty of grip on the ice. We had good luck with the chunky Maxxis Bighorn 2.0s last winter, but they didn’t fare so well on ice, so we bolted on a set of ITP’s innovative TundraCross tires on SS rims. The tires have taller lugs similar to the Bighorns, but with sharp metal studs embedded in the track that claw at ice for surefooted traction in all conditions.
Because you shouldn’t recreate before the chores are done, we focused on successful snow plowing (see all plow systems) before moving on to playtime. Polaris hooked us up with its Glacier Plow system that installs easily and can be mounted up or removed by pulling a cord that disengages the plow from the frame. It couldn’t be easier, which is crucial; fumbling barehanded with tools in the cold is best avoided.
Better lighting is doubly important in the snow and during the short days and long nights of winter, whether you’re on a trail or pushing snow in your neighborhood. While the X2 comes with a three-headlight system that’s sufficient, PIAA’s durable and handsome 510 ATP 4-inch lamps added a lot more light to the scene.
Before getting to work, we still hadn’t done anything to keep warm on our ATV’s chilly, exposed seat. Wind guards and a Lock & Ride windshield from Pure Polaris blocked the wind, and heated grips and throttle from Moose Utilities kept our hands toasty.
Take care in protecting your body in winter weather. Make sure to layer your clothing, starting with a breathable thermal layer and finishing with a breathable outer layer from manufacturers like Castle X or KLIM. Make sure to wear a DOT/SNELL approved helmet to protect your nugget.