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Legislature Weighs Repeal of Stud Ban
By Leif Enger
January 11, 1999
Click for audio RealAudio 3.0 28.8

The snowmobile-stud ban enacted by the '98 legislature is likely to be repealed in 1999. The measure was meant to protect asphalt trails and roadways, which are damaged by carbide-tipped studs on some machines. Snowmobilers say the studs are important for safety - and moreover, if they can't use them here, many will take their sleds and go somewhere else.

A simple demonstration shows why so many snowmobilers love carbide studs, and so many others hate them. Witness this encounter between a new carbide, held between thumb and forefinger, and a clean desktop.

SFX: Sound of desk being gouged.

The stud is the pro-wrestler of traction devices. It grabs whatever is offered. For snowmobilers that means tight turns on packed snow. Quick stops on glare ice. If there's pavement just under the snow and ice, it gets gouged. Crow Wing County Engineer Duane Blanck says wherever studs hit bare asphalt - crossing roads, following trails - the asphalt loses.

Blanck: It seems to accelerate the deterioration of the pavement. And whether that's five years, or six years, or three years ... it's difficult to predict that. But clearly when water enters the pavement it accelerates deterioration and can lead to the birth of a pothole.
Carbide studs were first assailed in 1996, when cyclists and in-line skaters came off the Paul Bunyan State Trail grumbling of bumpy rides. The Trail was almost new; 50 miles of it stretching north from Brainerd had recently been paved. The specter of smooth state-funded asphalt turning to rubble in the name of traction prompted the Department of Natural Resources to ban studs from the Paul Bunyan Trail. Later, the ban was extended. Stud use almost anywhere in Minnesota now requires a $50 fee. Though it's by far the nation's most restrictive stud law, some snowmobilers say it's fine with them.

Vicki: I agree with it. I don't think there should be studs allowed.
On a day too cold to ride far, Vicki's group has holed up at the American Legion in Pequot Lakes. Outside are nine snowmobiles; none has studs. The consensus here: studs lead to overconfidence and bad driving.

Various: I think they're driving too fast. Think about it: 80, 90 miles-an-hour and they don't even have seatbelts on 'em. None of my friends have studs on their sleds, and they've been snowmobiling for years. If you're in control of your sled, you don't need the studs. Long as you're driving safe.
But many snowmobilers disagree. Safety, in fact, is the first argument of those who want the ban repealed. The lobby group "MN USA" cites research: studded-machines really do stop faster than non-studded under some conditions. Brett Hardy drives and sells snowmobiles at a Brainerd dealership.

Brett: The thing is, the guys who ride fast are not going to slow down because they dont have studs. And if you meet those guys on the trail, do you want 'em to have studs or not? Because if they have the studs they're gonna be able to avoid you easier.
The second argument is economics. Itasca County Commissioners just adopted a formal position in favor of delaying the stud ban five more years. The position doesn't affect state law, it just makes a point: snowmobilers are too important to the economy to be chased elsewhere by excessive laws. Other county boards and chambers-of-commerce have done the same. Five years, a Grand Rapids Chamber official said, would give manufacturers time to come up with an answer - a plastic stud, for example, that grabs like carbide without tearing up asphalt.

On Gull Lake north of Brainerd, entrepreneur Sean Harguth is trying to develop that answer first. This morning he's doing research: taxiing out onto the lake, then roaring back toward a stretch of glare ice and locking the brakes at high speed.

Harguths snowmobile track bristles with studs of his own design. Instead of spikes, they're pyramids. Instead of carbide, a nylon composite. They're called Diggerz, with a "Z".

Sean: What we're looking at right here is where a Diggerz or a composite-stud went across. And it is penetrating the ice. Right next to it is a carbide, that's also penetrating the ice. The carbides a little deeper.
Harguth has spent two years developing these asphalt-friendly studs. Before all the talk of repealing the ban, he hoped Diggerz would simply step into the vacuum left by carbide. Now that seems unlikely.

Harguth: I am nervous. But I think we have a quality product. Everybody's just waiting to see what happens with the law.
Repeal legislation was introduced in the first week of the session; some version of it is expected to pass easily, and be signed by Governor Ventura.