After talking at great length to somebody from a California toy importer not too long ago, I realized what a difficult question this is to answer; what is snowmobiling?
The toy manufacturer was simply trying to get a better understanding of the sport. Being from southern California, their exposure to our sport was mostly from ski hills and magazines. So in the course of their research, they happened to call SnowTech.
I started out by explaining how snowmobiling had started out primarily as a means of winter transportation and utility, but now days the basis was more the â€œsportâ€ aspect. I laid out the typical usage, with around 75% of the users (midwest and east) riding on a vast interconnected groomed trail network, like a system of backcountry highways groomed by ski hill groomers (easy for him to understand). Then in the western states where snow was more plentiful (as well as public land) users were more typically explorers and freestylers, riding off trail when possible, using the groomed trails primarily as a means to get to the â€œgood stuffâ€.
Next I was asked about racing. They wanted to make some toy snowmobiles and, of course, the racing image was important. How were snowmobiles used in racing?
This was an even more diverse answer than that of usage. We have snow cross, a closed-course version of motocross with bumps, jumps, and plenty of tight left-right action, usually in a stadium or other setting that was conducive to large crowds of spectators.
But there were also ice ovals, enduros and cross-county racing, as well as hill climbs, water cross (he had a hard time comprehending that one) and the one he fully understood â€“ drag racing. Until I told him we do it on the snow, on ice, on grass, and yes, even on water.
I also explained how snowmobiling was enjoyed by the young and the old; that it was both a family sport and one of the boys, the weekend warriors if you will. It was work and play. It was both escape and competition. It was the lifeblood of the economy in many rural areas during the winter months. And even when people canâ€™t actually ride a snowmobile on snow, they will do all sorts of things simply as an excuse to get together with and talk about snowmobiling with others who feel the same way. This is how I justified the grass drags and the watercross events, as well as the vintage shows.
The gentleman on the other end of the phone was quite impressed. His prior vision of our sport had been muddied by general perceptions of noisy, smoky machines that chased animals and terrorized the winterscape. What he now envisioned was a complete society of polite, friendly northerners who liked to share their passion with those they enjoyed spending time with, regardless.
So what is snowmobiling? It continues to evolve. It is many different things to many different people. But to all of them, it is fun. Thatâ€™s why we do it.