It’s kind of funny, almost comical, to see and hear the reaction and predictions of non-snowmobilers towards our sport in these times of high fuel prices. Some of them actually think that we’re just going to give up and go away. This simply demonstrates how little they actually know and understand us in the first place.
Many will slowly change their habits, a process that humans are quite adept at; I call it “improvise and adapt”. So, gas prices are pretty high. Do you really think that somebody who loves to snowmobile (like all of us, evidenced by reading a publication like SnowTech) are really going to roll over and walk away from their passion? It will be one of the LAST things they give up, not the first. Instead, we will all improvise and adapt.
Instead of going for a 250 mile ride on a given day, we might start later, end earlier, ride slower, and ride fewer miles. Instead of making numerous weekend trips from Friday to Sunday over the course of a winter, we might make fewer trips for more days to reduce the travel expense. Instead of hauling your sleds back and forth, you might leave them there and just transport the riders. Instead of trailering to far away riding areas, we might tend to stay closer to home. Instead of riding a ten-year old sled without powervalves, we will ride a newer four-stroke machine, or one of the newer two-strokes with almost twice the fuel economy of the older technology. From transfer-port injection to the all-new direct-injection technologies, snowmobile fuel economy has almost doubled in the past ten years – yet our industry is rarely recognized for such a monumental improvement.
And yes, there will likely be a trend away from the one-ton and 3/4 ton trucks that some of us drive, back down to 1/2 ton and unibody-style trucks that are lighter and get better fuel economy. And some of us will get rid of their trucks altogether and be more like the Europeans, using a car to pull a trailer. Most cars have at least a 1,000 pound tow capacity with no trailer brakes. Add brakes to the trailer and a tranny cooler and the towing capacity rises.
The fact of the matter is that just because fuel prices are higher than they have been in the past doesn’t mean the passionate snowmobiler is going to fade away. Quite the contrary. We will work harder and smarter, and we will improvise and adapt. Maybe we will see consumer demand go back to wanting smaller, lighter sleds with more fuel efficient engines, as this trend is already in place. Sales of the 600cc class sleds remains strong, but it wasn’t too many years ago that a 600 was considered “big”. By today’s standards, a 600 is considered “small”. Ski-Doo enjoys great demand with their 500SS models, which are actually a fuel-efficient 600cc liquid-cooled CARBURETED two-stroke that gets fuel economy remarkably close to the all-new direct-injection ETEC models. The difference isn’t as huge as you might think, except in the $$$ each costs.
Polaris knows their Indy 500 was one of the best selling snowmobiles of all time, and they would love to re-introduce that kind of model to the industry once again. Light, agile, responsive, and inexpensive, an Indy 500 could get you up to 70-75 mph with plenty of acceleration and not drain the fuel tank as quickly as a sled with twice the horsepower. Maybe the time is right for their “new” Indy 500 to be introduced.
Yamaha is poised well, with their efficient Phazer models. The 500cc four-strokes really do sip the fuel, and while they’re not 100 mph rockets, you can throw them around and have a complete and total riot riding them, especially in pairs. We love them for paint-swapping tight quarters riding, almost like going to a high-powered go-kart track.
Even Arctic Cat has kept a fuel-efficient 500cc in their line, with the single-throttle body F5 that still gives you a respectable 80 HP but does so with economy in mind, instead of blistering acceleration.
And with even more EPA rules coming for 2010, the sled offerings and the average fuel economy are only going to get better. Remember, the EPA snowmobile rules were brought about VOLUNTARILY by the snowmobile manufacturers.
Point is, all of the snowmobile manufactures are capable of building sleds that we are willing to buy. As our habits change, so will what they offer. Snowmobiling is healthy and here to stay, make no doubt about it. It will simply be a matter of improvise and adapt.
By Kevin Beilke