Sitting in a hotel over looking the airport in Narita reflecting on what I have been through in the last four days. I got off the plane in Asahikawa just as a fairly significant snowstorm was receding. I have been in this area during the spring before but not seen snow like this. The base has to be still around three feet in the fields and deeper in the bush.
The first day in Shibetsu was spent riding. Typical spring conditions with tight frozen snow in the early part of the day slowing giving way under the bright sun to loose, sugary mush in the afternoon. We had approximately twenty different sleds parked on the edge of a large meadow and took turns hopping from one to another as they became available. The groomed test course, several km of serpentine trail around the perimeter of the speed course is always a blast and this was no exception. The guys had it groomed perfectly and after the requisite safety briefing we were turned loose to rip it as hard as we dared.
There is always a surprise or two from our engineering advanced group and I was not disappointed. ‘Chris-san, try this machine it has (fill in the blank with some hi-tech trickery) and tell me what you feel…’ Not everything was quite so cool but even trying existing models with different calibrations, track patterns ergonomics and assorted other tweeks is fun and enlightening.
I spent a bunch of time on the new Apex SE and it still blows me away, what a cool snowmobile. I was able to spend some time with Kai-san, our engine design leader and learned more on the many subtle refinements and background of the new engines development, there was an EXUP system on the bench which I was able to fondle, surprised at how little it weighs and how smoothly the valve operates.
Right now you are thinking, what else are we working on and I wish I could say but that will have to wait another time. Victor was here from Russia and I always find his information and stories of great interest. Turns out Russia got all our snow this year. It started dumping in November and is still going. They sell mostly wide track machines as there are no trails or groomers. He had us all laughing when he told of the riding style in the bush, how Viking is good for breaking trees with 5inch diameter trunks without serious damage, which turns out to be a big sales feature when compared to the more flimsy competition. They have no premium fuel and no environmental restrictions or very few restrictions of any description and total snowmobile industry sales have increased once again. I would really like to go there sometime to ride. It really sounds like an adventure where anything goes, if you have the notion.
my old friend Ole Haga (Norway) was there with Allen from the Netherlands who also had good things to report on a fairly snowy and successful winter season in Scandinavia. Unfortunately I had to report that we are coming out of the driest winter on record and total industry sales in Canada are down significantly over last year. All manufacturer’s are dealing with an inventory surplus, not the best situation considering the crappy economic climate.
I am not looking forward to the 13 hour plane ride that lays ahead today. I have another few hours to burn here in Tokyo so I’ll be on my way and update when I get home…
As most of you will know by now, there was a terrible avalanche at the Big Iron Shootout on Boulder Mountain in Revelstoke last weekend. (Note: The Big Iron is not an organized event but an annual gathering of riders intent on challenging the hill and each other in some unofficial runs.) I have known some big slides over the years but never one that came down in front of so many sleds. The fact that only two lives were lost can be attributed to many of the riders being avalanche aware (educated) and prepared to deal with such an event. The reason I say this is because of the unlikelihood of anyone in the media recognizing the fact that the risks assumed by many mountain riders are very calculated and acknowledged with formal training and safety equipment. They would much rather paint the picture of a bunch of yahoos running amok in the mountains as they call on governments and law enforcement for restrictions. The efforts of the survivors should be applauded as they were prepared and able to save the lives of many. That said, our hearts go out to the families of the two men who lost their lives.
Last week was interesting, Jon, Richard and I traveled to our testing center in Wisconsin to evaluate some future projects and discuss everything from the new Apex release to the latest accessories plans. The testing was difficult due to the trail conditions. We ran a section outside of Hurley which ranged from mush to muck with lots of rocks popping up, sink holes with sucker snow on the edges ready to pull you off the trail if you tried to hug the sides… The test terminated in a freshly plowed logging block with skidder tracks deep enough to swallow a snowmobile. Given the conditions the sleds ran great, I’m just glad it wasn’t mine!
Next week I am heading for what will likely be my last ride of the season. There is still lots of snow in northern Japan and I’ll be doing planes / trains and automobiles for at least 48 hours of the trip… Will make a point of snapping a couple of pics for Sled Talk and visiting my most favorite sushi bar in the world in honor of Karl Ishima, who will retire the end of this month.
Karl is the father of the Bravo and both VK models. He was also influential on the SnoScoot project, Vmax 4 (from his post in the USA) the OMP that almost was and the RX-1.
It would be great to get some comments from people that have owned any of the above mentioned snowmobiles as I want to put together a little presentation for his retirement party… anyone have any farewell wishes for one of our most seasoned engineers?
Now that all the new sleds for 2011 have been announced and the excitement is melting away at the same rate as the snow on our local trails–it’s time to make one last announcement from Yamaha.
After the new Apex hit the trail and the on-line discussion took off, a few guys were quoted as saying there must be more. Another rocket that will roost the competition…
Well once again, you will see it here first. We have a high performance twin track snow machine coming to Canada in very limited numbers next fall. Much of the technology is focused on getting the most from the new 4-stroke engine using a hydrostatic drive and yes… power steering. Because of the limited production we are targeting only regions that get lots of snow. I am willing to go on record to say we are absolutely going to blow away our competition with this announcement… here’s a video clip that Bryan and Danny put together to give you the first scoop.
NOTE: you must go to Sled Talk to see video content if you are reading this from an email. cheers cr
Checking out some bolt on stuff this week. Randy Swenson (Team Thunderstruck) is our newly appointed western regional manager for Yamaha and was in town so I grabbed him on Tuesday night for a ride. The snow conditions around south Simcoe are getting real skinny but it was still worth the effort to get with Randy. I had a set of HID lights in my Apex to try out as well as the newest version of the TRIC ice scratchers… and I’m glad I had both.
The HID lights are really intense and in my estimation worth the price of admission. I will definitely be running these on any of my future sleds. We were running a rail trail tunnel through the bush at a significant velocity. It seemed illuminated similar a freight train -very nice! Not sure how much the scratchers were helping across the now snow-bare, plowed corn fields we had to run, but there is likely a clean strip that won’t need to be harrowed in the spring!
Randy was running the same sled that Matt smashed the world 24 hour distance record on. All I did was change the oil, tighten the track and replace the carbides (broken studs). The steering was still nice and tight and everything was running good as new. Got a chuckle out of Randy when he said this was the longest he has sat down on a snowmobile in recent recollection and his throttle thumb was cramping from the steady throttle settings down Lake Simcoe. He also remarked how powerful the sled felt at sea level, which coming from a man who runs upwards to 400hp in his ‘first ascent’ machines, is quite a statement.
We are heading for Wisconsin next week to hook-up with the US based, testing and planning guys. Hopefully we’ll have enough snow to check out some of the future projects they are working on. Won’t surprise me if we end up in the UP.
Wade is holding down the fort at the annual media ‘Snowshoot’ which is taking place in West Yellowstone as I write this. So far I haven’t heard much about what is happening there but I am sure there is lots of schmoozing between the OE’s and journalists, we’ll have to wait and see what actually gets printed. So far it would appear the new Apex is a hands down winner for the most advanced, evolved / changed 2011 model released thus far, but I’m not completely up to speed and have yet to see how strong the marketing spin will be behind the emissions motor oriented line-up from Quebec. What? Now ‘4-strokes are lighter than 2-strokes’? Really now, that’s simply amazing. How do you spell ‘sled of the year?’ 😉
Yamafest is a go out in Revvy and I understand that Gilles from G-Force will attend along with his world-speed record holding Apex Streamliner and a Yamcharger equipped mountain sled. Randy and the boys are planning a few surprises for the participants, only wish I could make it out this year…
We’re looking at temperatures upwards of +10 degrees C this weekend. Could it be time to put some air in the tires? Hmmmm.