Monthly Archives: October 2014


CIMG0747 (2) With winter just around the corner many of you may be looking at buying a snowmobile.  Whether you are a first time buyer or adding another sled to your garage here are some valuable tips for finding the right snowmobile for you.  

  1. Fall is a sellers’ market and spring is a buyers’ market, but either way most sleds will be overpriced:  If you are looking at getting a sled now you are looking at one of the worst possible times.  Fall is a sellers’ paradise.  Everyone has the bug to get a sled for the upcoming winter, the only possible worse time to buy a sled is if the winter came early and there was a ton of snow on the ground creating a high demand.  The one thing that you can be certain of at any time of year is that most of the sleds out there will be overpriced.  It seems most sellers either think their sleds are worth more than they are or they are throwing out a ridiculously high price to see if anyone bites.  This usually results in a sled sitting there unpurchased for a long time.  The truly good deals get snatched up right away so if you see one go check it out before someone else does.  I’ve seen sleds sell within five minutes of being posted and I’ve seen others sit there for months- both of these scenarios have one key ingredient- price.  If the price is right it will sell fast.  If you wait until spring you will always find the best deals.  As the snow melts people get desperate to sell their sleds before they have to store them for the winter.  This is also a good time to get a new sled from a dealer for the exact same reason, they don’t want to have any previous years’ carryover sitting in their storage area so they are willing to make a deal.


  1.  Target the right sled for your needs:  This is a valuable piece of advice.  What are you using this sled for?  What is you riding style?  Are you a trail rider, a ditch banger or a boondocker? Do you put on a ton of miles or do you just go on the occasional weekend ride?  Do you need a wok horse that pulls trailers of wood or a fish house?  Luckily the manufacturers have filled every imaginable niche: Trail sleds, touring sleds, one up touring sleds, crossovers, utility sleds, mountain sleds, you name it they make it.  When I first moved back to Minnesota and got back into snowmobiling I was at a point in my life when the right sled for me was a touring sled.  I had a young daughter and I figured I would either be riding with her or my wife.  I bought the touring sled first and it wasn’t long before my wife decided she wanted her own sled so all three of us could go at once.  She was a fairly aggressive rider so I bought her a sled that not only matched her capabilities but one that I could ride just as hard with my buddies.  A few years later my daughter decided it would be much better to ride her own sled than to be on the touring sled with mom or dad so I bought a fan cooled sled that could be driven slow, was easy to start, and was light enough to get unstuck easily.  Pick a sled that best meets your needs and your current lifestyle.


  1. Research:  One of the best tools I’ve found for evaluating a potential sled is doing some research.  If you know a reputable sled mechanic, ask him what he thinks of the sled you are considering- if you know someone extremely knowledgeable on snowmobiles ask them.  Several years ago I was on the fence about buying a particular sled and I called someone who had a wealth of knowledge about that particular model and brand and he told me to jump all over it- so I did and it turned out to be a great buy.  The internet is another fabulous tool.  You can look up old magazine reviews about your sled when it was new and better yet there are a ton of snowmobile forums out there that can answer just about any question you may have about engines, reliability, durability- the list goes on and on.  The more knowledgeable you are going into it the better off you will be.


  1. Bring someone with you that knows what they are doing:  Speaking of experts if you know someone who knows a lot about sleds bring them with you. It’s always better to have two sets of eyes.


  1. Inspect the underside of the sled for damage:  This is a big one.  It pays to look under the sled for signs of damage.  I’ve seen trashed belly pans, dented and torn steel and aluminum, bent trailing arms and A arms, dented shocks, you name it. The worst I had ever seen was a tear in the frame that ran all the way from the belly pan to the tunnel.  From up above the tear in the metal was completely concealed by the motor but looking underneath you could see that the underside of the sled had suffered severe damage.  Check the inside of the tunnel also.  I’ve seen my share of bent frames and wrecked heat exchangers.


  1. Look for signs that the sled has been stored outside:  On of the worst things you can do to a snowmobile is let it sit outside all summer long.  I’ve never quite understood this one. For some reason people have this mentality that they can leave the sled right where they parked it on the last ride of the season.  They don’t cover it, they don’t get it off the ground, they just let it sit there all summer getting rained on and having the hot summer sun beat down on it relentlessly.  Would you take your motorcycle and just leave it in your yard exposed to the snow and cold all winter?  Of course not- so why would you do this to your sled?  Snowmobiles like summer sun and weather about as much as Frosty the Snowman does.  If your snowmobile had a choice it would pack it’s suitcase and head north for the summer.  Snowmobiles are specifically designed to endure the harshest winter environments.  All the parts of a snowmobile from the engine to the track to the frame were designed to work optimally in temperatures below freezing and more specifically below zero.  Summer sun and heat quickly degrade the hoods, windshields, seat covers, tracks, handgrips, wind deflectors and brake housings. You can always tell a sled that has been stored outside unprotected because all of these things will be deteriorated or discolored and faded.  If the windshield and headlights look like they need that headlight lens restorer it is a good chance that sled has been outside for a while.  You will see small cracks in the finish of the hood and the seat will be cracked or torn.  Also the brake housing on the handlebars will be faded- this is especially true on Polaris models.  The tracks will show signs of dry rot if they have been sitting on the ground for any length of time and quite often you can find decaying leaves or pine needles in the nooks and crannies of the sled, especially in any exterior seams like under a headlight.  If all of these signs of outdoor storage are present don’t just walk away- RUN!  Because that sled is an endless disaster waiting to happen.  
  1. Mileage:  Look at the odometer, get the mileage and ask if the engine has been rebuilt.  The average 2 stroke snowmobile engine usually needs a rebuild around 5,000 miles.  If it hasn’t been done it will probably need to be.  4 strokes can pretty much run forever, giving them a distinct advantage here.


  1. The best sleds go fast in the fall:  Even at this time of year there a good deals to be had and if you find one, don’t hesitate because everyone is out there looking right now.  In the spring you can take a little more time and negotiate a little harder but in the fall if you have an opportunity take it before it is too late.

Following these tips can help you avoid problems and find a snowmobile that will provide you hours of fun this winter. Good luck!


CIMG0352 (2)Someone asked me during the season last year why I don’t do any blogs on racing or race drivers. I told them that there are lots of websites you can visit to read about the latest racing news and is not one of those sites. We are also not a big magazine site that has info on all of the latest and greatest snowmobile technology to hit the market. We don’t ride on brand new factory set up sleds (don’t get me wrong we’d love to do that but there aren’t any factory reps beating down our doors to give us a new sled to demo). We have wives and kids and regular jobs. Just like you we have a variety of snowmobiles in our garage- some newer sleds, some older sleds and of course a couple of late 90’s Polaris Indy 500’s because it’s virtually impossible not to somehow wind up with one in your garage. We ride on the weekends and holidays and every moment we get on the saddle is a moment we cherish. Our staff is lucky enough to have the great fortune of living in Northeast Minnesota and having our base of operations a stone’s throw away from the iconic C.J. Ramstad North Shore State Trail so we can literally walk outside of our office, start up the sled and hit the trail any time we want to. We know that most people in Minnesota aren’t that lucky and a weekend ride means loading up the trailer and taking a road trip. We also realize that for the majority of Minnesotan’s that means trailering to our neck of the woods in early and late winter as we get snow sooner and it stays longer than anywhere else in the state.

We created because we wanted a website that could tell you where you are, what the trails are like and what you can expect when you get to where you are going. We wanted a site that could help the average snowmobiler get the most out of their trip, a website created by snowmobilers for snowmobilers and that is what you see here. It is our goal to help you get the most out of your snowmobiling experience and this blog is just one more tool in our efforts to provide you with the best website possible. I’m not going to tell you about racing or about the newest sleds from the big 4, what I am going to tell you is something that relates to you, the average rider. We have staff members on the trail every day of the week so we can provide you with the best and most up to date information possible. I also like to impart a little bit of history in the blog because I think it is important to know about the people that laid the groundwork for our trail system and the genius minds behind the snowmobile itself. All of those snowmobiling pioneers worked to create one of the most fun and rewarding winter activities of all time. Knowing where you came from helps you appreciate where you are going. I hope you find this season of the Northeast Snowmobile Blog informative and entertaining. All we need now is some snow!


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There are a number of factors that you can look at to determine the overall health of the snowmobile industry. Dealers and manufacturers look at sales, states look at registrations, and snowmobile publications look at subscriptions and website hits.  I look at a different barometer when I analyze the industry’s health. It is a number that is somewhat unscientific and admittedly was created in my own 2-stroke clouded mind but it is also a number that I think best reflects the true health of the sport. It is a number I call Snowmobiles Available for Use, or SAU.  The SAU number is derived by assuming that the average lifespan of a snowmobile is about 15 years.  Of course a properly maintained sled can last much longer than that but we must also assume that many sleds were ridden extremely hard or not maintained properly or were wrapped around a tree somewhere.  All of this puts the average lifespan of a sled at about 15 years. The reason the SAU number is so important is because it can dramatically affect the economic impact of the snowmobiling public on winter economies. A perfect illustration of the impact of SAU could be seen last winter.  In 2013 there were 157,106 new snowmobiles sold worldwide. However, worldwide snowmobile registrations increased by over 700,000 sleds.  The reason for this disparity was because of the large SAU number.  Although there were over 150,000 snowmobiles sold there were an additional 550,000 snowmobiles sitting in peoples’ garages that were available to use.  When the snow arrived, those sleds were brought back into action creating an enormous winter economic impact. It is estimated that those 550,000 sleds coming back online generated an additional 2.2 billion dollars of economic activity.

Over the years snowmobile sales have experienced two significant peaks.  In 1971 worldwide snowmobile sales reached a record 495,000 units.  After 1971 there were a number of factors that played into the rapid decline in snowmobile sales.  In 1973 the EPA instituted new regulations for snowmobiles which forced the manufacturers to invest millions of dollars in the development of new technology, dramatically increasing the cost of a new sled and forcing several of the smaller companies out of business. The gas shortage of the late seventies and out of control gas prices severely cut into peoples’ disposable income and made the idea of using a short supply of gas on a recreational vehicle like a snowmobile seem illogical. Double digit inflation and unemployment meant less people were able to afford a new sled. The trail system we have today was just in its infancy. The sleds that were being produced had many reliability issues, and most importantly there was a string of poor snow years. 

Although the eighties saw an economic boom the same could not be said for the snowmobile industry.  Sales in the eighties reached an all-time low and all but three manufacturers went belly up. In fact Polaris was in danger of being bought out by Bombardier and only the federal government stepping in to block the takeover kept us from having just two sled manufacturers.  Although new sled sales bottomed out, all was not lost for the sport because the SAU number was at an all-time high.  In 1984 roughly 4.4 Million snowmobiles were available in the marketplace and the majority of those were early seventies models which were now piloted by teenagers.  This boom in teen snowmobiling in the eighties later led to the second peak of snowmobile sales in the mid-nineties as these teens became adults and the target audience for the snowmobile manufacturers.  Other factors also played into the 1990’s sales boom.  The 1980’s had seen manufacturers trying to develop good trail sleds – and they were successful.  Unfortunately, when these trail sleds got off of the trail they instantly buried themselves.  The increased horsepower being transferred to inadequate tracks and suspensions resulted in these sleds trenching right to the bottom of the snow pack.  You were often told “Whatever you do, don’t go in the deep snow with this sled.”  Imagine, snowmobiles that performed terribly in snow!

By the nineties the manufacturers had created sleds that performed better and were far more comfortable to ride than their 70’s and 80’s predecessors and although they still weren’t the greatest deep snow sleds, they could get the job done.  Snocross racing expanded rapidly in the nineties giving the sport some much needed exposure.  The improvement in ride technology combined with what was now a well maintained trail network in the US and Canada further fueled the boom and, most importantly, a few consecutive good snow years sent the snowmobile market rocketing upward with a peak of 260,375 snowmobiles being sold in 1997.

In the 2000’s outside forces again began to plague the market along with the manufacturers themselves being their own worst enemy.  In the 2000’s the name of the game was power.  In the early 1960’s snowmobiles typically produced about 6 to 8 horsepower, by the 2000’s that number had jumped to 150 hp.  It didn’t take long for the consumer to realize that these high powered sleds came with their share of drawbacks. For one, they were extremely heavy and difficult to get unstuck. Secondly, they got about 10 MPG – not a good thing with gas prices pushing $4 a gallon. Third, there were very few places that you could actually use all of that power. And lastly, they cost an arm and a leg to buy and maintain.  Additionally, Ski-doo’s new rider forward design that appeared in the 2003 model year sent the other manufacturers into a tailspin. Worldwide sales numbers bottomed out again at 111,492 in 2009 and the snowmobile manufacturers had to reexamine their strategy.  Much like the auto industry that had produced a fleet of gas guzzling SUV’s and trucks, the snowmobile manufacturers had produced a fleet of high powered high fuel-usage rockets.  There was a push to develop more efficient two stroke engines that burned less gas and oil, along with improving four stroke technology aimed at making a light weight more powerful and fuel efficient 4 stroke engine.

Over the past few years we have seen a resurgence of smaller 600 sleds with new chassis technology, better fuel economy and best of all smaller price tags.  All of this innovation helped increase sales even though snowfall rates weren’t the best.  Now as the aging 1990’s fleet is coming to the end of its lifespan, we should see an uptick in new sled sales as more of the old traditional sleds are replaced with newer rider forward technology sleds.  This combined with a good snow year last year pushed worldwide new sled sales to 157,106 for 2013.  Are we seeing another resurgence of the snowmobile market?  The resurgence of new sled sales would suggest that we are. However, the SAU number is declining and new sled sales have not matched the rate of decline, so even though sales are up there are less snowmobiles on the trails.  Hopefully the new influx of fuel efficient inexpensive sleds and a few good snow years will get the sport back to where it was in the 90’s.  Only time will tell.