The 1999 Avalanche Sniper Test Drive
4x4Wire Drives Avalanche Engineering's Rock Buggy Short Cuts
| Randy Wheeler's Impressions | John Nutter's Impressions | Sniper Technical Features | Photo Album |

By: Joshua Lowenstein - 5/2000
Photographs by Joshua Lowenstein & Lisa Lowenstein

Last Easter Jeep Safari '99, I had a stroke of pure luck; the opportunity to cover the maiden voyage of the new Avalanche Sniper. Steve Rumore of Avalanche Engineering enjoyed the feedback of having a passenger that asked a zillion questions and who didn't mind the dust and rocks of an open vehicle.

Photo by Josh Lowenstein
4x4Wire's Randy Wheeler behind the wheel of the 1999 Avalanche Sniper
Photo by Joshua Lowenstein

We spent most of that day talking about how he came up with idea for building such a radical machine. I found out that this particular Sniper was already sold to Troy Myers of Attica, Indiana.

Two weeks after the EJS '99, I stopped by Steve's shop in Bayfield, Colorado to finish up the interview that we had started out on the trail. I met his crew and saw his facility.<>

Steve told me of his plans to build several more Snipers, the next of which would be his personal competition rig. The Steve or #2 Sniper was to drop the front ¼ elliptical springs and go with coil over shocks, it would also have 2.5 ton Rockwell axles front and rear.

Steve and his Sniper took 3rd place in the Farmington, New Mexico Goodyear Rock Crawling Championships (sanctioned by ARCA) and 2nd in the Johnson Valley Warn Rock Crawling Challenge (WRCC). At the WRCC Steve came in second only to the Sniper he had sold to Troy Myers 8 months before. Steve placed 11th in the Phoenix ARCA event, in part due to the tight turns and width of the gates. In the Cedar City event, after adding rear wheel steering, he finished second.

When I saw Steve at the Farmington ARCA event, I asked him if I could drive the Sniper for few minutes He quickly said, "Go for it, you can't hurt it." Wasting no time, I jumped rather than climbed in to the rig and took off.

I jumped it off of a 3-4 foot sandy ledge down into the dry riverbed of Chokecherry Canyon. After flying down the dry wash for a couple hundred yards, I pulled a power slide to turn around and jumped it back up that sandy wall that I dropped off going in. I caught a couple feet of air and landed it like a pillow.

Photo by Joshua Lowenstein
Steve Rumore in the Sniper.
Photo by Josh Lowenstein
Kids, don't try this at home!

"What a rush! THANKS!!" was all I could say to Steve after the short test drive. After the adrenaline wore off, I thought to ask Steve if he was going to be at the 2000 Easter Jeep Safari. He replied "Wouldn't miss it. What are you thinking, Josh?"

"Well, how would it be for someone give their seat-of-the-pants impressions of the Sniper for" nudge nudge wink wink

Steve said, "Sure, do you want to drive it?"

I thought he would never ask!

Easter Jeep Safari 2000, Tuesday April 18th was 'Sniper Review Day' Yeeee Haaaa!

Photo by Joshua Lowenstein
The Sniper's incredible articulation helps it tackle virtually any terrain
Photo by Lisa Lowenstein

The 4x4Wire crew had been talking about how lucky I was; being able to drive the Sniper; and they were looking forward to running the trail with us and getting a first hand look at this awesome machine.

We departed from the City Market that morning and headed for the Golden Spike via the Poison Spider Mesa trail. I'll have to admit that the hydraulic steering with its agricultural origins takes some getting used to, perhaps a bit more getting used to than I was prepared for. A couple of times while driving down the highway I found myself over-compensating significantly, eventually I found that letting go of the wheel and letting the built in caster take control was the easiest way of handling it and driving straight. The force of the wind through the open cage (look Ma, no windshield!) driving down the highway was vicious, and I kept saying to myself as my sunglasses sank deeper into my skull, "I can't wait till we hit dirt, I can't wait till we hit dirt..." Steve was riding shotgun with his Arctic goggles on, looking right at home in his creation.

Finally, we arrived at Poison Spider Mesa, as the group of Ron Hollatz, Randy Wheeler, Vance Anderson, John Nutter, Lisa Lowenstein and myself (driving the Sniper) hit the trail. We were getting the ominous feeling that the weather would not be on our side on this day. Soon the dark clouds that had been gathering began to intensify and it looked as though the day may be a bust.

As we neared the top of the Mesa, just past the waterfall, the wind started blowing at near gale force. Then the pounding rain began. My 5 year old daughter was riding in the backseat of my open topped '51 CJ3A and kept saying as she was shivering, "I don't want to go back, I want to see Daddy drive the Sniper." To heck with that, I wanted to go back, it was miserable. We soon caught up with the Safari run heading into Poison Spider Mesa trail and found ourselves 50 rigs deep into traffic, so we headed back down the trail and tried to find a place out of the wind to eat lunch. No sooner had we stopped, the sun came out and the wind dropped down to something approaching tolerable.

We were in luck! Only now we were 3 hours behind schedule to run the long Golden Spike trail. We opted to run the Poison Spider Mesa trail and make the best of the time we had remaining and although we did not find any super difficult obstacles we did find several places to play and put the Sniper through its paces.

1999 Sniper 2
Steve Rumore Bayfield, Colorado
A borrowed 350 Chevy. A fire-breathing 407cid bad boy will be in soon.
GM 700R4 Automatic
Transfer case:
2.5 ton Military Rockwell axles with 6.72:1 R&P gears and Detroit lockers.
Custom built hydraulic double-action ram.
Four wheel coil over nitrogen-charged shocks
44" Interco Super Swampers TSL
Quad sound system:
By Interco Super Swamper TSL
The wide Sniper is extremely stable on even the most off-camber sidehills
photo by Lisa Lowenstein

During my test drive I was unsure of what to make of the all-hydraulic steering system. The absence of road feel while driving the highway to the trailhead caused me some unease which was almost certainly compounded by the distraction from a 60 mph+ wind hitting me square in the face. Thankfully, Steve will soon be installing an easy-to-remove windshield.

Driving on the rocks is as simple as point and go; the ease with which this Mars Buggy takes to climbing anything amazed me. Having schemed to do this from the start, I asked Steve if it would be cool if the other guys got to drive the Sniper as well. Confidently Steve said, "The more opinions the merrier, who wants to go next?"

With the rain pouring sideways and it looking like our trip would be much shorter, John Nutter took his crack at driving. Later, after the weather improved, I did get a couple more shots driving. Steve's machine has only one disc brake that stops it -- you really can feel each u-joint and the backlash of the gears clicking silently together upon a hard stop. You might think that a single brake is not enough? I can tell you that I never got the feeling that it was not enough. The highlights of the test drive were our four rig dog-pile, and seeing the JAZZED faces of my fellow editors while they were testing it out. Each 4x4 staffer got to try different type of obstacles. Nutter got to climb some ledges, Ron and Elliot did some bouldering, I got to drive some steep steps that I would never try in my own rigs, and Randy got to twist it up and see how just far beyond normal limits the Sniper can articulate. Even my wife Lisa drove for a bit, and my 5 year old Daughter Nyssa got to ride in it and hold Steve's little dog, Skippy. John Nutter's cousin Paul got to jump it in the dunes.

A huge THANK YOU to Steve Rumore and the Avalanche crew for building a very driver friendly rig and for letting us drive it for the day. We wish you the best in your upcoming WRCC and ARCA competitions.


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