Mountain Wheels: Nissan’s Winter Warriors get on track
While it looked a little grim there after way too long of nearly spring-like weather in both the High Country and down on the Front Range, winter’s back — so let’s talk about winter vehicles.
I know your average SUV or AWD-equipped crossover has a reasonably good chance of getting through even the biggest of dumps. But when you get the kind of snow that trapped the Donner Party, the kind where you can’t even get to the slopes, you need to take a different course.
That’s the idea behind a trio of track-mounted machines that came to Denver this week and that you might have seen on the interwebs with none other than Jay Leno tooling around.
Dubbed the Nissan Winter Warriors, the guys at Nissan’s Nashville headquarters tried to figure out possibly the most radical way to convert their already pretty well weather-equipped family of crossovers and SUVs into absolutely unstoppable snow machines.
They opted to equip three mostly stock vehicles — the new Rogue, Pathfinder and a Murano — with a set of Dominator tracks made by American Track Truck.
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They’re a company based in the very snowy Upper Peninsula of Michigan, near Marquette, founded by a group of guys who deal with deep Lake Superior snow but wanted to find an alternative to the full-blown and very, very expensive snow cats we see grooming the slopes or supplying on-mountain restaurants.
As complex and military-grade as it may look in the photos, the Dominator tracks are actually just designed to bolt on to a standard vehicle’s wheel mounts and then — provided you have the necessary clearance — use the vehicle’s existing power to drive them. They’re also 170 pounds a set.
I’d always figured this was more of an application designed for a Chevy Suburban, probably sporting Texas plates, but it turns out that it also works for some slightly more down-to-earth vehicles, especially the Rogue and Murano. They still cost somewhere in the range of $10,000 for a set, but the result is a pretty cool transformation.
The Winter Warrior vehicles all got shiny red metallic wrap jobs and the crew had to cut wheel well angles just a bit to accommodate the Dominator treads, but otherwise the vehicles are pretty standard issue — if you happen to have a vehicle lift around to aid with the install, that certainly helps.
I got to try out the new Rogue and Pathfinder on the slopes at Echo Mountain, up Squaw Pass road from Evergreen, and wow … the result really does make for the ultimate wintertime automobile, indeed.
The issue of sitting on a two-foot-high triangle of rubber tread does make for some interesting cornering, unless you’ve gone ahead and installed a lift kit on your vehicle, so that was about the only real drawback to their ability to bound through the snow.
And, maybe the 170 horsepower found in the Rogue, though the Pathfinder’s 260-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 did a much more credible job of heading literally straight up the slopes like a civilian-model PistenBully snowcat heading off to groom Peak 8.
Ride is perhaps a little terse but when blasting along in snow, so it goes — on the straights, you can also get the Pathfinder up to about 45 MPH, and dig into your turns with a reasonable amount of track-mounted authority.
Best of all, at the end of the season, or even the end of the day, the tracks can be swapped out for regular tires and you’re on your way.
I would consult local regulations before heading out onto Main Street in a track-mounted vehicle of your own, even on a four-foot snow day; for backcountry or private offroading, it’s a pretty cool setup.
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