June 19, 2009
Global Testing Sites
We are hosting some ‘new dealer’ orientation sessions this week where each department presents information on how things function around here, giving our newest dealers a better idea of who to contact and how we do business. I was reviewing my material and was struck by one of the topics which I thought would be of interest to some of you.
Snowmobile testing is a part of the job I have always been intrigued with. As a matter of fact it had a lot to do with my application for the product manager position years ago and resulting move from god’s country (BC) to Ontario (perhaps not the smartest lifestyle choice but definitely my best career decision ever).
Testing has added quite a few stamps to my passports over the years, not to mention many memories and introduced me to some remote parts of the globe I would never have experienced otherwise. Often I have taken extra time to explore the culture and countryside while there and have not one single regret.
Our Japan testing base is located on the northern island of Hokkaido. This is ‘foothill terrain’, very hilly and steep. Yamaha required a long smooth straight trail for top speed and acceleration runs. The solution was to bull-doze and back fill tons of real estate to create a strip worthy of a 747… Leave it up to our engineers to come with this! Here’s a shot taken of the first Venture GT FI prototype in development. The good looking squid checking out the ergo’s is our infamous product manager, Jon Blaicher.
Just a little bit south of our Shibetsu test center is another island that features some very unique terrain (and individuals). The southern island of New Zealand offers up winter in July. Yamaha gained access to a facility used by Toyota as a ‘proving ground’ for their vehicles along with some of their vendors (tire companies etc.) It was here that I trekked to validate the new 4-stroke Venture Lite. I remember arriving after close to 30 hours of non-stop travel, jumping in a rental car (jet lagged) and setting forth through the streets of Queenstown which by the way has no traffic lights, just round-about’s at the busy intersections. To make matters more interesting the steering wheel on the right and driving on the left with no co pilot or clear idea where the heck I was going. The valleys leading up to Wanaka are flanked by some of the gnarliest hills I have ever seen and it is easy to understand why they chose this area to film the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy. One thing struck me as absolutely awesome. The legal system in New Zealand prevents land owners from being held liable (sued) by anyone who happens to get hurt on their property. You want to bungy jump off my bridge? You want to build some trails with jumps and skinnies? No worries mate, good on you. Man would that be refreshing to have over here!
Jumping across the planet, pretty much kitty-corner to Wanaka sits Walles, a mainstay for Yamaha testing in Scandanavia and birth place of many of our utility based sleds: Enticers, Bravos and of course, Vikings. I won’t tellyou the story of the VK 3 test I attended there a few years ago (there are actually several good ones) suffice to say it included some Reindeer bits, guns, Laplanders, headlights and blonde locals, all good! In this shot, Norwegian good-ole-boy Ole-Johan Haga, project leader Karl Ishima and myself working on the Viking Porfessional prototype.
No snowmobile testing discussion would be complete without mentioning Alaska. I have more stories about Paxson than all the rest put togther. This highway juntion lodge out along the Alaskan pipe line has hosted Yamaha testing for many, many years. We didn’t always have much snow to work with but it was always cold. Makes one wonder how our J-hook bar-grip warmers ever made production 😉 . Testing up here normally starts in early November and goes on until things freeze up back in Wisconsin around Christmas time. In this shot you can see the first prototype of the Apex shadowed by Paxson mountain, makes me think of playing pin-ball through a Caribou herd just looking at it.