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Snow Goer 1973-74: The Shakeout Continues

By John Prusak

50th-finalSnow Goer magazine was launched as the first national snowmobile magazine 50 years ago. To celebrate, Snow Goer is taking readers on a volume-by-volume walk through the history of snowmobiling, as captured on the magazine’s pages. Below is the review of the 1969-70 publishing season. Other years will be also be published — use SG@50 in the search bar on the website to find them.  Here’s a link to the opening section plus links to the 1966-67 section, the 1967-68 section, the 1968-69 section, the 1969-70 section, the 1970-71 section, 1971-72 section and the 1972-72 section.

 

1973-74

With inventories nearly matching sales, the snowmobile industry was already headed for a shakeout. Then the Arab oil embargo occurred in October of 1973 and further scrambled the economy and the industry.

Snow Goer 1973

Snowboarder style isn’t new in snowmobiling — it actually preceded snowboarding! This is the October 1973 cover of Snow Goer.

Six months before the embargo, though, Snow Goer was testing 1974 pre-production units brought by 20 factories to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The uncertainty many felt in the snowmobile market was best told in Snow Goer’s review of the “marginally operational, unfinished prototype” Rupp Nitro II 440.

“The Nitro II started on fire, burned out plugs, overheated. But we loved it, not for what the prototype was, but for what its quick snatches of performance showed it could be,” Snow Goer editors wrote. “This machine had to be taken with a grain of salt in the Michigan tests. When most companies were working on ’74 prototypes, Rupp engineers were wondering if they’d have a job the next day. Rupp Industries was then undergoing the throes of financial instability.”

The October issue’s spec chart featured 37 brands, compared to 47 the previous year and 64 in model year 1972 – though, again, other brands were piecing together sleds but these were the ones well-enough organized to send specs to the magazines. The carnage came from all over – from private-labeled department stores that stopped carrying sleds to brands like Ariens, Ski-Zoom, Snow-Flake, Little Skipper, Play Cat and many more. And for many others, 1974 would be their last season – including Chaparral, Gilson and Grand Prix.

Snow Goer charged into this uncertain future with a promoted tour to Yugoslavia and a cover story on snowmobiling with TV star Michael Landon. Another cover story predicted that snowmobiling near the Grand Canyon’s North Rim in Arizona would some day rival the popularity of snowmobiling near Yellowstone National Park.

The magazine tests showed the variance of machines available – of the 24 sleds evaluated, the 366-pound (wet) Alouette Super Brute 440 was the lightest, thanks to its aluminum chassis, while the portly Johnson Golden Ghost weighed 568 pounds. In the overturn angle testing, the skinny and top-heavy Roll-O-Flex GT 340 flopped when tipped to 36 degrees while the lower-slung Rupp Nitro II could be tilted 52 degrees before landing on its paint job.

The Moto-Ski Grand Sport 440 was called “The most improved sled of ’74 – fleet as a deer, comfortable as a Kroehler recliner and stable as Gibraltar.”

The oil embargo held off until many sleds were already sold – sales were still 435,000 units, though the season ended with 230,000 unsold units. Many didn’t seem to grasp the direction the sport was headed – in a Snow Goer Trade article an International Snowmobile Industry Association official was still projecting sales topping 600,000 units by 1976-77.

1973 Snow Goer

Michael Landon was one of many famous people to grace the cover of Snow Goer back in the day. This is the November 1973 cover.

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