By: Jordan Elliott
I’m an avid gearhead and anything that has a motor I’m into. I’ve been snowmobiling in some of Canada’s best locations for almost 15 years, and I purchased my home specifically because it’s close to snowmobile and ATV trails.
Here’s my problem. I, and many others from my age group of 18-35 are out of the trail loop and hardly ride them anymore. In fact, after many years of being a proud OFSC member, I am no longer proud, and I may not buy a permit next year.
These are big words and, as much as it hurts, it’s the truth. Why? I feel like we are at a turning point and need to focus on a new direction.
I have a young family. I also own a house, and a couple of vehicles. No matter how hard I try, I can’t sell enough stuff on E-Bay to make my meager leftovers add up to 15 large. That’s how much the sled I want costs before any accessories. The industry is pricing itself out of existence.
So I turn to my only option and buy used and I modify it. Engine mods, bar risers, suspension mods, flat black plastics, new track with some bigger lugs, studs, tall boy nuts… check. Okay, ready to roll. Trail permit, insurance… whoa…check. After I’ve spent ten grand on a decent used sled I’m ready to roll.
Most others in this age group who aren’t lucky to be part of our three percent rural population have to go buy the trailer, and truck to tow it with so they can bring a buddy along. Wait a second, no buddy? He doesn’t want to go, because his sled, like mine, is used. It’s expensive to maintain if you’re not a mechanic and money for gas and food on the trail adds up to some serious dirty looks from the wife (and she always finds out), so he doesn’t really want to run 400 kms this weekend with it. Neither do I, I can go find some areas to free-ride where I know it is legal and I’m not going to get into trouble. For others who would like to stay close to home, this is much harder to do. This leads me to my next point.
As a group, our focus seems to be limited to trail riding only. Riding trails on a weekend is starting to become a thing of the past for newcomers and trailblazers alike and the short season often turns others to the up and coming ATV market.
Young volunteers are disappearing, old volunteers are getting to the point where they are slowing down, and often politics plays a role. I visited my local office last season to purchase my permit and asked if I could volunteer, I was turned down. According to the person tending the desk, there was no need for more volunteers.
Seasons have been shorter the last couple of years and, quite frankly, the groomer didn’t come past my part of the trail till part way through February due to weather and storm damaged trails.
So, with a max of one month of riding in the heartland of snowmobile country, did I wait until that short window to ride? No, I was out riding in December and I had some of my best riding before and after the trails were open. Doing what? Free-riding on lakes and remarkable areas where permits are not required. This has become my focus.
So why, as a group, are we limiting ourselves solely to one market, trail riding, when there are so many other versions of snowmobiling out there people could be exposed to? Why is it that I only see signs that say, “Stay on trail” and no signs that say, “open area to responsible snowmobilers”? Instead of hanging on to a sinking ship we need to pay attention to what the problem is and find ways to bail ourselves out to keep the sport we all love alive and keep the industry viable for years to come.
Ask anyone where the demographics are for marketing in our industry and the response will be age 35-50. Maybe we’re forgetting about the generation that will keep things rolling for the next 20 years. We’re not making the sport attractive, or affordable for a younger crowd, and if we don’t hook them young, the chance of picking it up when they are older is much less likely.
We need to organize a demographically representative group to address this issue and find some viable solutions. We need more places for kids and those non-trail riders to meet, ride, and do what many of us remember from our youth, and we need affordable sleds for them to do it on.
Yes, there is a stripper being released known as the Polaris “Shift” and this is exactly the type of thinking we need. I grew up being able to ride in pits and other areas on machines that comparably cost much less than today’s machines. I don’t care about gauges, fancy decals, or buttons that I can’t even reach when I’m riding.
Give me a sled with a hardcore reputation, a sweet motor, some solid suspension, a 1.5 lug track and forget the rest. Change is required now; it will lead us in the right direction and the dividends will yield a healthy industry once again.