I got a reminder Monday night why snowmobilers are unlike any consumer on the planet.
Here in the Minneapolis area, we’ve had above-average temperatures and several record high days in the last month. We’ve had our first 80 degree day, the once-thick ice disappeared from laketops in incredibly quick fashion and people are thinking motorcycles, ATVs and boats.
This, of course, means that our local snowmobiling season slammed shut fast. In a matter of a couple days in early March, my “snowmometer” outside my office window went from showing 13 inches to showing grass. Spring is always a tough time for snowmobilers like us, due to the mixed emotions. Frankly, I was crushed to see the season end so soon, yet I have to admit that it has been mighty pleasant outside in the evening when I get home from work.
So, back to the topic at hand, it’s been warm, and our local riding season is now a full month in the rear view mirror. Plus, Monday evening was the night that the baseball season opened, the exciting NCAA basketball tournament finals were on TV, our Minnesota Wild hockey team was in action, it was the day after Easter (ham leftovers) and the last day of Passover (matzo leftovers), and the weather was nice enough for motorcycle rides or fishing – bottom line, there were a lot of distractions.
Yet there they were, well over 2,000 enthusiasts crowded into a Bloomington, Minnesota, conference center, lusting over new snowmobiles at our local stop on the 2011 Manufacturers Sneak Peek tour.
The crowd was mind boggling – remember, this is a four-hour show, at it was held in a new location on a busy night long after our season had wrapped up. Last year’s crowd of just-over 1,400 people was impressive – this year, organizer Tom Anderson said the final figures showed 2,110 people came through the door.
His official statement was, “We were extremely pleased with the robust turnout.” Unofficially? Anderson, officials from all four manufacturers that I spoke with at the event and other “industry insiders” (don’t ya’ love that term?) all pretty much said the same thing: “Where did all of these people come from?!” and “Isn’t this fabulous?!”
It’s hardly an original thought, as I’ve written about it for 17 years, and so have other magazine writers over the years, but snowmobiling on its face makes no sense, from a pure consumer standpoint. You’ve got to spend a bunch of money on a snowmobile to ride, a bunch of money on gear to wear while riding, a bunch of money on a tow vehicle and trailer to get to riding locations and a bunch of money at that location – it’s a pretty darned expensive sport. And, after spending all of that money, old Ma’ Nature can (and has, many years) deliver us a crappy winter where we only get to ride a handful of weekends. And some of those weekends will either be bitterly cold or the trails will be rodeo-grounds rough. From a pure investment standpoint, it makes no sense.
But luckily, our sport is so exhilarating that you can just throw common sense out the window. Just like common sense would tell you that, right AFTER a season is completed is not the best time to draw a crowd at an event. There’s a reason hunting shows like Game Fair are held in the late summer, most snowmobile consumer shows are held in the fall and motorcycle, boating and RV shows are held in the late winter: right before an enthusiast gets to do their activity, they are amped up about the possibilities and want to go look at, touch and buy products to fuel their passion. But what you don’t see is a lot of boating or motorcycle shows in October or hunting shows in January.
Snowmobilers, however? Yeah, the hard-cores will show up on April 5 and pack a conference room on a busy night. There are recreational enthusiasts, and then there are snowmobilers – a level above.