Snow busi­ness

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - WILLY’S GARAGE - PAUL WIL­LIAMSON

YOU may be lament­ing all that white stuff as you shovel your drive­way, but thou­sands of Man­i­toba snow­mo­bile en­thu­si­asts are jump­ing for joy.

The rid­ers aren’t the only ones happy about all this snow, ac­cord­ing to Sno­man Inc., the gov­ern­ing body of snow­mo­bil­ing in Man­i­toba. Many lo­cal busi­nesses also profit sub­stan­tially from snow­mo­bil­ing. Since 1994, it’s es­ti­mated that the eco­nomic ben­e­fit of snow­mo­bil­ing in Man­i­toba has amounted to more than $2 bil­lion.

My, how things have changed. In the early days of snow­mo­bil­ing, the machines were lit­tle more than a sled with a pair of skis up front, a track on the rear, a small en­gine and a crude seat for the op­er­a­tor.

To­day, the mod­ern snow­mo­bile is an en­gi­neer­ing mas­ter­piece that would look just as much at home travers­ing the sur­face of the moon as run­ning across Lake Win­nipeg.

Ac­cord­ing to Wikipedia, the first U.S. patent for a mo­tor­ized snow-ma­chine us­ing a track in the rear and skis up front was is­sued to Ray H. Mus­cott of Wa­ters, Michi­gan, on June 27, 1916. Not long af­ter this patent was is­sued, Ford Model T cars and trucks with the un­der­car­riages re­placed with tracks and skis be­gan pop­ping up and were pop­u­lar for ru­ral mail de­liv­ery. Th­ese con­verted cars, known as Snowfly­ers, were also ex­tremely pop­u­lar in north­ern Canada.

Although oth­ers have tried to lay claim to the in­ven­tion, the first per­son to suc­cess­fully de­sign and mar­ket the mod­ern snow­mo­bile was Cana­dian in­ven­tor and busi­ness­man Joseph-Ar­mand Bom­bardier from Que­bec. Bom­bardier, with his Ski-Doo brand, is widely con­sid­ered the fa­ther of snow­mo­bil­ing. He was granted a Cana­dian patent in 1960 and a U.S. patent in 1962 for his end­less track ve­hi­cle. The snow­mo­bile was born.

The first snow­mo­biles de­signed for recre­ational use fea­tured tiny two-stroke en­gines that only pro­duced about 10 horse­power. The two-stroke en­gine con­tin­ued to dom­i­nate the mar­ket for many years, but more ef­fi­cient and cleaner run­ning four-stroke en­gines that can make as much as 150 horse­power have flooded the mar­ket in re­cent years.

When Bom­bardier died of can­cer at the age of 56 in 1964, his com­pany was pro­duc­ing around 8,000 snow­mo­biles per year. To say his in­ven­tion has flour­ished would be a con­sid­er­able un­der­state­ment. It has sky­rock­eted.

In the tra­di­tional snow­mo­bile sea­sonal months from Jan­uary through March of this year, 48,689 snow­mo­biles were sold in the U.S. and 40,165 were sold in Canada, ac­cord­ing to Ed Klim, pres­i­dent of the In­ter­na­tional Snow­mo­bile Man­u­fac­tur­ers Group, (ISMA). Sales in Europe and Rus­sia ac­counted for an­other 40,223 machines, so nearly 130,000 new snow­mo­biles were sold world­wide last sea­son in just three months.

More than 1.4 mil­lion snow­mo­biles were also reg­is­tered in the U.S. last sea­son, and more than 600,000 were reg­is­tered here in Canada. When you add the es­ti­mated 700,000 machines reg­is­tered overseas, the num­ber climbs to more than 2.7 mil­lion peo­ple around the globe rid­ing snow­mo­biles. ISMA also says the av­er­age snow­mo­bile rider is 41 years’ old and rides about 1,600 kilo­me­tres each win­ter.

To­day, the Ski-Doo brand that Bom­bardier made fa­mous con­tin­ues to be very pop­u­lar and is one of our na­tion’s pre­mier ex­ports. But there are also snow­mo­biles man­u­fac­tured by Amer­i­can com­pa­nies such as Arc­tic-Cat and Polaris, as well as Ja­panese man­u­fac­turer Yamaha.

Re­gard­less of which brand you choose, to­day’s snow­mo­bile is a marvel of mod­ern en­gi­neer­ing that is both re­li­able and fun. Th­ese ver­sa­tile machines en­able those of us liv­ing in win­ter cli­mates to get out­side and en­joy the beau­ti­ful scenery and share in some fam­ily fun.

Snow­mo­bile clubs across the province are work­ing hard groom­ing trails for a win­ter of fun as we speak. Just re­mem­ber: Ride safe, and stay on the trails!

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