Minnesota: Land of Snowmobiles (big and small)

SnowflakeMinnesota, as we all know, is the land of cold weather, snow and outdoor activities no matter what. We celebrate winter with an outdoor festival. We flood our backyards to make ice rinks. And we hit the trails to enjoy God’s beautiful creation in all its snow-covered glory.

But some of us like to enjoy that beauty at a higher rate of speed than gliding on skis through the woods. Snowmobiles have long been a mode of transportation in Minnesota, as well as a mode of fun (and occasionally disaster).

on the Mississippi River near Hastings
on the Mississippi River near Hastings

According to Wikipedia, “The origin of the snowmobile is not the work of any one inventor but more a process of advances in engines for the propulsion of vehicles and supporting devices over snow. It parallels the development of the automobile and later aviation, often inventors using the same components for a different use.”

Developed over years of trial and error, in places like Sweden, Russia and Alaska, early models were large, enclosed, and expensive. It wasn’t until the 1960’s, when engines became smaller and lighter, that the personal snowmobile idea really took off. Bombadier created the style that is used today – open cockpit, for one or two passengers. They called it the “Ski-doo.”

Snowmobile racingFun Fact:  Two of the top four snowmobile manufacturers in the world are located here in Minnesota – Polaris (in Minneapolis) and Arctic Cat (Thief River Falls). The others are in Canada and Japan.

Recently, a group of Cub Scouts  from Clear Springs Elementary School in Minnetonka was out on Lotus Lake in the southern metro for a day of winter fun. Dressed for the weather (which often means they can hardly move in boots, snow pants, jackets, hats, mittens), they put up their fish house, made holes in the ice and fished. They had snowball fights. And they snowmobiled – on snowmobiles just the right size for them.

As Steve, one of the leaders, described these mini machines, “it’s like kids riding a snowblower. They can’t go very fast so we just let them drive around until they run out of gas.” Now how fun is that? Pulling each other on sleds, they had the freedom to do their own driving. And what could be better for boys than driving their own “machine”?

When they finally ran out of gas, the dads pulled the boys on sleds behind their ATVs (which the kids didn’t drive). What a way to pass a winter day – hanging out with your pals, playing in the snow, zooming around the lake, and maybe catching a fish or two (or not).

So while I’m celebrating that it’s finally March, there’s still plenty of winter left for snow angels, moonlight snow shoeing, and zipping along the trail in a snowmobile just the right size.

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