1-1132021Hello everyone!  It’s November and for us here in Northeast Minnesota that means snow can be on the ground any day now!  Of course the Grant-in-Aid trails don’t open until December 1st but it is still exciting to see the flakes in the sky!

Recently my next door neighbor celebrated his 90th birthday and, knowing that I am a huge snowmobile fan, he recounted to me about how the entire neighborhood was snowmobile crazy in the late sixties and early seventies- the first Golden Age of snowmobiling.  There is a large old farm field behind my house that borders the property of 7 households and my neighbor said that at one point every single one of those households had at least one snowmobile and some of them had several and they would all hit that field night and day, snowmobiles buzzing everywhere.  That was a pretty common scene in the late sixties and early seventies, in fact from 1970 to 1974 snowmobile sales topped 2.2 million machines, an average of 453,000 snowmobiles a year.  Snowmobile brands were as plentiful as Crayola crayon colors.  Imagine getting the yearly snowmobile buyers guide and having fifty brands to read about.  It seemed at that time that snowmobiling would continue to flourish, so what happened?

By 1974 huge changes were taking place in the snowmobile industry- federal standards were put in place regulating sound decibels and exhaust standards, these were followed by numerous regulations on where a person could ride and enforcement of private property rights.  At this time a small and disorganized trail system was all that existed, most trails just followed powerlines or old logging roads or trails people used to get to their cabins both in summer and winter.  Grooming and trail maintenance was in it’s infancy with old box spring mattresses towed behind a snowmobile as the top grooming method for trails.

With tail riding conditions poor at best the public was clamoring for better suspensions and more power, this, combined with the technology needed to comply with new regulations resulted in the cost of a new snowmobile beginning to rise.  No longer was a snowmobile an item you could buy for less than $1,000.  These price increases and rising product development costs made many of the weaker companies pull the plug on their snowmobile business.  But more severe blows to the industry were on the way.  Rising gas prices and gas shortages of the late seventies, combined with less places to ride and a string of really poor snow years, rising inflation and a faltering economy forced many companies into bankruptcy and one by one the snowmobile manufacturers who at one time numbered over 100 dwindled to just a handful, but the problems didn’t stop there.  As the eighties approached and companies were experimenting more and more with trail performance they forgot about one major thing- a snowmobile needs to be able to travel in the snow!  With the emphasis on power, speed and comfort on the trail, owners of new machines soon found that going off trail resulted in an endless amount of digging and the once versatile machine of easy snow travel that had been created in the sixties was now a lumbering tank that couldn’t move in deep snow.  By the mid-eighties the number of manufacturers dropped to the four we have today and during that decade each of them flirted with the possibility of being out of the snowmobile business altogether.

As sales hit rock bottom with just over 100,000 machines being sold in 1986 it was evident that something had to be done.  The thing that did come out of the seventies and eighties was that the manufacturers learned from their mistakes and also capitalized on their successes and a new breed of snowmobiles were about to hit the market.  With an economic recovery and the dawn of successful technology along with everyone’s best friend- SNOW the 90s were about to usher in the next great era of snowmobiling.  A once nearly dead sport was about to take center stage once again and it all started in 1991…

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