Most often when a person takes up a hobby, it’s because a friend or family member introduced it to him or her. Traditionally, boys and girls take up baseball or hockey, soccer or whatever because their parents played the games as kids. Hunting and fishing are pastimes steeped in tradition, and those traditions are almost always passed on from one generation to another. Snowmobiling is a tradition for many families, too, but not for my family.
I got into snowmobiling purely out of my own curiosity.
I remember seeing sled tracks in ditches while riding in our Ford van as a kid, probably on my way to Squirt-level hockey practice. The smooth paths rolled up and over driveway approaches, they looked like roller coaster tracks. If I was lucky, I’d see a sled and its driver bounding alongside our Econoline 150 as we rolled down the road. I’d watch the skis skim over the bumps and the driver react to the terrain, readying himself for the next bump. I probably asked my dad how fast snowmobiles could go, but he didn’t know; he wasn’t a snowmobiler.
Christmas Day was celebrated on my mom’s side of the family — a tradition — and my uncle Greg and aunt Joyce had sleds. I asked for a ride every time we celebrated at their place out in the country, but their machines were always broken down (or was that my uncle’s excuse so he wouldn’t have to go through the hassle of dragging all of us rug rats outdoors?).
I didn’t know much about sleds or engines when I started high school, but I knew that they had two-stroke engines, just like the smoky Lawn Boy I pushed around our yard every summer. My only exposure to engines so far was through that lawnmower and boats — my family had a 1967 Glastron with a 40-horse Johnson — so displacement didn’t mean much to me, the term “horsepower” is what I understood. I checked out magazines from my school’s library and bought Tradin’ Times at gas stations so I could peruse page after page of used sleds that were for sale and learn about snowmobiles.
The pastor at my family’s church had a pair of old Arctic Cats, and after my incessant questioning about snowmobiles during confirmation classes and church retreats, Pastor Dave took me out on a lake one afternoon for my first-ever ride on a sled. Snow cover was thin that winter, and I remember those sleds’ cleated tracks spinning on the bare ice patches that dotted the lake. It must’ve taken a week for me to wipe the smile off my face.
After that ride, those Tradin’ Times classifieds weren’t just for educational purposes, they had become my shopping tool — I was officially in the market for a snowmobile. I almost bought a 1968 Arctic Cat Panther for $75, but it was in rough shape and needed a lot of work. I ended up buying a 1972 Ski-Doo Nordic 399 for $325; money I had saved up from delivering newspapers in my neighborhood. This sled wasn’t exactly pristine, but it was a runner.
I turned many-a-lap around my family’s one-third-acre suburban lot. And on days when I had just a little extra faith in the reliability of my Bombardier, I’d ride it down to Medicine Lake near my house — the same lake where Pastor Dave and I rode. Some rides went without trouble, others required help from my mom or dad to rescue the sled and me, including the time the belt blew one warm afternoon and my dad had to come down with the van and trailer to load it up. Those were good times.
— Andy Swanson, Snow Goer magazine managing editor