Perfecting The Trade: The CKMP Experience
Colin Wallace | On 23, Nov 2017
By Colin Wallace. Photos by Patrick Garbutt.
It is said that it takes 10,000 hours to learn a trade, but what does it take to perfect a trade?
It takes more than just putting in time; one has to obsess over the details to be the best of the best. Every edge, every corner, every contour and every straight line must be analyzed and scrutinized.
To say that Carl Kuster has perfected his trade would be an understatement. Plus, he has the race results to prove it. The soft-spoken Kuster has been making noise in silence on a snowmobile for 30 years and counting. Dominating the hillcross and snowcross circuits requires equal attention to detail; one must scrutinize and analyze every second on the course in order to stand at the top of the podium.
Kuster has applied the same dedication to his personal passion project: Carl Kuster Mountain Park. CKMP has built a reputation for taking the snowmobile experience to the highest rung on the ladder in terms of hospitality, terrain, equipment, and instruction.
The CKMP Experience – Escape From Reality
We exit the busy flow of the Trans-Canada Highway and start down the quiet back road toward CKMP. I am overcome with the calming sense that I am about to withdraw from reality for a few days. Nestled in the Interior BC snowbelt between Revelstoke and Sicamous, the deep snowbanks and tall trees lining the road here feel worlds apart from the everyday.
Pulling up the lane at night, the large structure housing CKMP’s shop and lodging comes into view. From the outside, it is strictly business: a blocky, two-storey metal-clad building with a large overhead door and two steel man-doors on either side. The only hint of impending luxury is the dark shape of a hot tub on a second-storey deck, outlined by the pragmatic yellow of the high-pressure sodium yard light.
Attention to Detail
As I step through the shop door, I feel as though I have stumbled into Ski-Doo Mecca. Not to mention, Kuster’s meticulous attention to detail is instantly apparent. Lined up with military precision — perfectly in a row, like jets on an aircraft carrier—is the CKMP armada of snowmobiles, every one a black and yellow Ski-Doo Gen4 Summit X 850 E-TEC with a 165” x 3” track. Perpendicular to the fleet is two freshly delivered 2018 Summit 850s in blue and green: a 175” and a 165”. At the far end of the shop rests Kuster’s personal collection of current race sleds, as well as more retired race sleds, along with various race memorabilia and some minty-looking, vintage Ski-Doo iron hang from the rafters above. Everything has a place and there is no clutter to be found.
It’s pretty obvious that CKMP is closely aligned with snowmobile manufacturer BRP. At its core, CKMP is a hospitality service provider. But the entity plays a fringe role in helping to test and refine new Ski-Doo technology. It’s a deal that makes sense for both parties. CKMP gains access to the latest-and-greatest Ski-Doo snowmobiles to offer its clients. BRP benefits from critical, real-world feedback from daily abuse by Carl and his guides as they push the limits of the technology in some of the most varied terrain and deep snow that can be found.
Feels Like Home
To my right, the smells of a good day of riding waft from a forced-air glove and boot dryer that hums along next to a spacious row of guest lockers filled with personal riding gear. The flow of the shop naturally funnels me past the lockers where I am welcomed by a few of the CKMP staff. In just a few moments of chatting, I get a sense that these people are incredibly passionate about CKMP and the experience they provide to their guests. I instantly feel comfortable around these people who I have only just met.
A quick tour of the shop reveals a few machines on hoists getting some TLC, a welding and fabrication area, countless tools and other shop necessities. The repair area of the shop is as meticulously clean and tidy as the rest of the building I’ve seen so far: no oil on the floor, no parts strewn around, nothing out of place.
The guest accommodation is upstairs, so I head up a flight of wide stairs to a boot room where I kick off my shoes before walking through into the lodge area. It’s dinnertime, and I am enveloped by the kind of exotic aromas you might expect at a high-end restaurant. The chefs pause their preparation to greet me with a warm welcome.
A large, open room houses the kitchen, lounge and living room, encouraging clients to interact with one another and staff. Mingling guests interrupt their conversions to say hello. Immediately I am immersed in story swapping and getting to know the other riders. It doesn’t take long for me to feel like I’m at home with family.
Guestrooms, which spread out from the living area, are well appointed in a mountain-luxury style. They feature a comfortable bed, private bathroom and more than enough electrical outlets for me to charge the 9,731 batteries I brought with me for my various pieces of camera gear.
Waking up to the smell of bacon never gets old; after a solid night’s sleep, I shuffle back to the dining table for a first-class breakfast. Then it’s time to head down to the shop to gear up.
Guests need only show up to CKMP with their riding gear, the staff takes care of the rest. Each group is assigned their own guide who knows the local areas inside and out. There are definitely perks to having a guide who knows where the best riding can be found. especially for those guests with limited days on snow each winter; it’s important to make the most of a short vacation.
2018 Ski-Doo Summit 850 175″ Test Drive
Heavy snowfall is common in the Monashees, and the weather has granted us deep, moist, sound-muffling pow. We take turns aboard both the pre-production 2018 Ski-Doo Summit 850 165” and 175” sleds. This gives us a feel for both and how they compare side-by-side. The 2018 Summit 165” performs like a champ, and claws its way with ease through all but the very steepest terrain on this ridiculously deep day. There are a couple of slopes we would like to drop down, but they are too caked in fresh snow to risk climbing back up on anything other than the 175” Summit. And since we only have one of those, we decide to stick to some mellower aspects.
For those familiar with the 2017 Summit 850 Gen4 platform and how it performs, the 2018 Summits are for the most part unchanged. However, BRP has made some key refinements to the Summit and Freeride models. In particular, the driveline has been revamped; it’s got a new finned pDrive sheave, revised clutching calibration, new gearing, revised PTO and MAG engine mounts, a new belt and better cooling that should come thanks to a new clutch cover and improved air flow. BRP estimates a belt operating temperature reduction of between 15 and 40 degrees Celsius. For the 175”, some rear suspension hinge points have been moved slightly to accommodate a longer skid.
It Just Keeps Going When You Think It Shouldn’t
I can’t help but feel that everything I have read about ultra-long track sleds being hard to negotiate through tight trees is a lie; riding the Summit 175” through the trees requires very little input. It doesn’t quite add up how effortless the 175” sled is to manoeuvre when I look back to see a mile and a half of tunnel behind the seat. It’s impressive how easy it is to initiate a sidehill on steep terrain. Even more so, how smooth and effortless it feels once put into sidehill mode; there is no twitching and I don’t feel like it is about to lose the sidehill. As for climbing, when the sled is pointed uphill, it just keeps going when you think it shouldn’t.
The addition of the Summit 175” to the Summit REV Gen4 platform will without a doubt change the way that terrain is accessed with a snowmobile. I can say with confidence that this machine will open up new riding in old areas. As for CKMP, Kuster says that at least half of the 2018 fleet will be 175s.
Completely new for 2018 is BRP’s E-TEC SHOT Engine Starter. It’s an electric start system that doesn’t require a starter motor or a battery, thereby eliminating over 10kg of weight. Before SHOT came into existence, snowmobile riders were invariably forced to compromise between lightweight and convenience.
But push-button starting comes down to more than just convenience. Sure, pull starting your sled a couple of times doesn’t sound like a big deal. Nevertheless, mountain riders know that they will do it many, many times over the course of a single day. And if they are riding aggressively, they will likely have to do it at absurd angles. We’re talking on steep hills, against a tree or with the sled nearly upside down. Eliminating 12,862 pull starts in one ride noticeably helps reduce fatigue, allowing maximum pow smashing to be done.
We decide to give our SHOT equipped 2018 Summit a little real-world field test. The sled starts 14 times in a row using the magic button—without allowing it to recharge—before it runs out of juice. Success. It’s innovation that makes sense and just plain works.
Massages and Food Coma Back at the Lodge
Back at the CKMP lodge, we settle in for dinner with the other guests around a large, handmade table. A dinnertime tradition here is to take turns describing the best part of each person’s day; tales of deep pow, great terrain and epic stucks snowball into more stories and laughter. Soon, food coma settles in, and we all disperse to relax. Most guests take turns visiting the in-house masseuse to have kinks worked out from the day’s deep pow and deeper stucks. The rest settle into the comfy couches or play a game of pool. After a few adult beverages, it isn’t long before we all retire to bed, exhausted from the day of riding.
A business isn’t successful without the people behind the scenes, and CKMP has assembled a group of passionate individuals. Kuster leads by example and his staff goes about their daily work with the same dedication to perfection. It’s a team effort, and their collective attention to detail is how Carl Kuster Mountain Park has perfected the trade of motorized adventure hospitality.
Read more stories from our Fall 2017 issue of Mountain Sledder magazine online here.