What Are Snowmobile Ice Scratchers and When Are They Necessary?


On a day when you’re sledding with some friends in fluffy, powdery snow, your snowmobile glides across the stuff effortlessly. Yet in those instances when you’re faced with packed, hard snow, how does your snowmobile traverse the trail? It relies on what are called ice scratchers. What are ice scratchers and does your sled really need these?

Ice scratchers are attached to your rear suspension rails and dig into ice and hard snow to kick it up and send it to your suspension. This provides cooling to the rear of your sled so the vehicle is at less risk of overheating.

If you’re still getting acquainted with your snowmobile and this is the first you’re learning of your ice scratchers, then this is one article you’re not going to miss. Ahead, we’ll answer all your most burning questions about the ice scratchers, including more on what they do, why you should take care of them, and which ice scratcher material is best.

Let’s begin! 

What Are Snowmobile Ice Scratchers?

If you’ve read a handful of the most recent posts on this blog, then you should know by now that although a snowmobile is a cold-weather vehicle, it still gets hot as it traverses the snow. Thus, several operations must be going at once to prevent your sled from overheating. 

One of these is the snowmobile’s cooling system, which uses a fluid called coolant to send cool liquid towards the engine. Another operation is the use of snowmobile ice scratchers.

Your ice scratchers, as we said in the intro, are installed at the rear suspension of your sled. They create powder if the snow you’re riding in happens to not be powdery enough. After all, your snowmobile’s heat exchangers rely on that powdery snow to enter the system and provide instant cooling.

In harder-packed snow, not nearly as much snow will come up off the ground as you ride past than when you’re snowmobiling in powdery snow, which makes snowmobile ice scratchers very necessary. 

Besides just snow, snowmobile ice scratchers can also dislodge ice, as the name would have suggested. 

What do the ice scratchers look like? Well, that depends on the type. Your sled will be equipped with one of two kinds of ice scratchers, cable or spring scratchers. Let’s talk about them in more detail now.

Cable Ice Scratchers

The first of the two types of scratchers, cable scratchers, comprise a steel-tipped cable with a pointed edge that can dig easily into snow and ice. The steel end is attached to a metal cable that’s quite malleable.

If you often stick to the well-known trails on your snowmobiling adventures, a cable ice scratcher is the better choice for you. That’s because cable scratchers aren’t as efficient as spring scratchers, so a well-worn trail won’t have as much hard-packed snow to dig up. 

One downside to cable scratchers is these can begin wearing away your sled’s rails, especially the paint. That’s due to where the cable scratchers sit, which is right near your sled’s skid.

The good news is that you don’t have to worry about any downward-facing pressure from cable scratchers, so even if you happen to take your sled in a parking lot or down the street, there’s far less risk of these scratchers breaking down on the harder pavement.  

Spring Ice Scratchers

The other type of snowmobile scratcher is spring scratchers. Unlike cable scratchers, which are considered rigid since they’re set in one location, spring ice scratchers can move with more freedom. This does give you that downward pressure, which only results in more snow powder and dust collected from the scratchers to feed to your sled so its internal components stay cool. Spring ice scratchers are also favored for their lubrication.

That said, if you’re going to reverse on your sled, you need to stop before you do this maneuver if you have spring ice scratchers. Failing to retract the spring scratchers into their holder will break them. All it takes is one instance of reversing and forgetting about the scratchers and they’re likely wrecked. 

When Do You Need to Use Snowmobile Ice Scratchers?

On any day when you want to ride your snowmobile and you don’t have that ideal fluffy, powdery snow on the ground, then you’ll want to use your sled’s ice scratchers. Certain times of the year also usually require the scratchers more often than others.

One of these is as winter comes to an end. You’re getting much less snow as the cold season transitions out, and any snow that’s left on the ground likely isn’t very fluffy. Instead, it’s been ridden on dozens and dozens of times if not more, leaving it hard-packed and flatter to the ground. Your ice scratchers, cable or spring, will come in handy as you bid adieu to the winter season and ride your sled one or two more times. 

In some parts of the country, the temperatures may remain cold enough that you can use your snowmobile into the early spring. If that’s the case for you, then you’ll seldomly hit the trails in the spring without the use of your snowmobile’s ice scratchers. That’s doubly, even triply true if you diverge from the trail and ride your sled in an open space.

How Long Do Snowmobile Ice Scratchers Last?

Your snowmobile will come equipped with ice scratchers when you buy it. The only exception might be if you get the sled used and the old owner happened to remove the scratchers. Let’s say though, for example’s sake, that you bought your sled brand new with features that are new as well. How long should you expect to have your ice scratchers?

Well, that depends partially on the type of ice scratchers your sled is equipped with. Cable scratchers are a little more inefficient, but you can reverse on your snowmobile freely without any risk of the scratchers snapping off or becoming damaged. These scratchers can also handle some riding across concrete or asphalt without damage.

Spring scratchers do their job better, but they’re also more sensitive. You cannot skitter across a parking lot or even back up across an open part of trail with the spring ice scratchers down, as they’ll break.

Thus, if you take care of your ice scratchers, you can have them for at least a few years. The good news is if your ice scratchers happen to break prematurely, it’s not going to be a huge expense for you to get new ones.

Many sledders buy an ice scratcher kit such as this one on Amazon and then install the scratchers themselves. In the kit in that link, these cable ice scratchers feature a carbide tip, and they come pre-built so you have to do minimal mounting. If your sled has reversing gear or even non-reversing gear, the ice scratchers are compatible. 

What Is the Best Material for Snowmobile Ice Scratchers? 

The time will inevitably come for you to get new ice scratchers. If you weren’t quite happy with the performance of your snowmobile’s ice scratchers to this point, then you might want to switch from cable scratchers to spring scratchers or vice-versa.

You may also wish to pay more attention to the material used to make the ice scratchers. Anything besides stainless steel is not a good pick. Stainless steel won’t rust, and its durability makes it able to handle even very hard snow and large, thick chunks of ice. 

For the tips of the scratchers, carbide is the ideal material, as it lasts the longest. 

As you shop around, you might come across several snowmobile ice scratchers with outer coatings. This is a common feature to make the scratchers look better so you might feel more inclined to buy them.

Yet the look of your scratchers doesn’t matter nearly as much as their efficiency. Due to the location of the scratchers, no one really sees them besides you, so who cares if they’re glossy and pretty? You’re much better off putting your time and effort into searching for stainless steel ice scratchers with carbide tips than those that are coated.

The other issue with coated snowmobile ice scratchers is that the coating rarely lasts long. You might only get several uses from the scratchers before the coating is all gone or mostly gone. Now the ice scratchers are completely exposed to the elements. Since the coating may be used on other metals than stainless steel to add some durability to the scratchers, the metal scratchers will get wet and likely begin rusting soon. 

Snowmobile Ice Scratcher Maintenance

If you can make your snowmobile ice scratchers last longer and save some money on replacement kits, why wouldn’t you?

Like every other part of your sled, it’s best if you maintain your ice scratchers. Here’s what you should do. 

Inspect Your Ice Scratchers Regularly

Every few rides, take a look at your ice scratchers and see how they’re holding up. If they came with a coating, has this worn off entirely? Are the metal scratchers rusting or showing other signs of damage? Are the scratchers aligned? How sharp is the carbide tip? As you answer these questions, you’ll know which areas of maintenance to most focus on. 

Always Use the Ice Scratcher Holder

We want to reiterate that for spring ice scratchers especially, the holder they come with is not optional. If you back up on your sled at any time, even just a little bit, and the spring scratchers aren’t in their holder, you might damage them. In some instances, the scratchers may remain intact on the snowmobile but become bent, and in other cases, you’ll see the scratchers several feet away from you in the snow.

Both situations necessitate a replacement, so be careful! 

Replace When the Scratcher’s Tip Wears Down 

Another scenario in which you need to think about replacing the ice scratchers is once the tip wears down. Without this pointed tip, the ability for the scratchers to sink into hard-packed snow and ice lessens. Eventually, your scratchers will be useless.

Get new scratchers when or even before this happens. If you aren’t already using carbide-tipped ice scratchers, now is a good time to switch! 

Final Thoughts

Snowmobile ice scratchers at your sled’s rear suspension dig into ice and hard snow to create powder when the snow isn’t as light and powdery. This powder then goes towards your engine so your sled doesn’t overheat. 

Now that you know more about your snowmobile’s ice scratchers, you can begin taking better care of them. Best of luck! 

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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