Vintage Snowmobiles: It's a matter of perception

This is my November 19, 2010

Vintage snowmobiles might be as popular today as when they weren’t “vintage,” you know, back when the sport of snowmobiling was exploding in the 1970s. Clubs, shows, special rides and themed riding groups are popping up across the Snowbelt so people can get together and celebrate the snowmobiles that got them hooked on snowmobiling.

My first sled was a 1972 Ski-Doo Nordic 399, and back in 1992 when I scraped together $325 and bought that yellow sled, I’m sure many people made wise cracks about that old jalopy that sat in my front yard all winter (Thanks, mom and dad!) because, frankly, it wasn’t cool like my neighbor’s brand new Polaris 440 XCR race sleds that taunted me from the trailer in their driveway.

Every day that winter with my first sled, I’d come home after school and stare at the 1992 Polaris snowmobile brochure while munching on a snack, thinking, dreaming, hoping that some day I’d get to ride a sled as sweet as that Polaris with the red hood, white stripes, low racer windshield and Fox shocks. My dream came true because 10 years later, I started working for Snow Goer magazine where it would be my job to ride the latest and greatest snowmobiles.

Even though I now have access all winter to a fleet of brand new snowmobiles, I’m the proud owner of a red ’92 XCR with all its racing glory. I bought it a few years ago for less than what I paid for my little Nordic, but I had to replace its track and crankshaft, rebuild the suspension and give it a major cleaning — the engine had been run out of oil and the machine was left to rot in someone’s back yard. Over that summer, I transformed my XCR from a sad, neglected snow sled into the “high-speed buzzsaw” it was meant to be.

Last weekend while I was cleaning the carbs and getting my sled ready for the winter while light snow fell in central Minnesota, I thought about how, for me, this sled is vintage. It’s a machine that is special to me because of my fondness for it when I was young and just learning about snowmobiles and the wonderful culture that goes with snowmobiling. And isn’t that what brings so many 50-something men and women out to the vintage events every winter? Old Rupps, Skee-Horses, Sno Jets and others have a place in those Baby Boomers’ hearts because those are the machines that they dreamed of riding and owning.

Some of my senior friends, the ones who were in junior high when I was born, say no sled that was built after the Jimmy Carter administration or has a CDI ignition has a right to be called “vintage.” They e-mail me links to Craigslist postings about “real” vintage sleds on occasion, prodding me to pick up an old Ski-Doo Blizzard, Polaris TX or some other relic.

Surely it would be fun to own a smoke-belching, jacket-inhaling leafer, but for me “vintage” is the sled that I dreamed about almost 20 years ago, the one that got me hooked on a life of snowmobiling. Hopefully 20 years from now, a model-year 2011 snowmobile will be a current-day high school sophomore’s “vintage” sled.

— Andy Swanson

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