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January 15, 2013

The price of admission

Now for something completely different. I have been immersed in a research project which really got me to thinking. Allow me to postulate.

IMHO there are basically only two kinds of snowmobiler’s. Those who need a snowmobile and those that want a snowmobile. Now you may argue that you need a snowmobile but by my definition, the ‘need’ owner has to gather fuel to heat his home, gather food for the family or needs to use his sled to make a living. It may be that a snowmobile is his only effective winter transportation next to a dog sled, you get the point. Now back to the ‘want a snowmobile’ person. That’s all the rest of us!

Given that we don’t need a sled, why do we want one? Well that’s easy enough, we want to be entertained and have fun (whatever that means to you). Now is where things get interesting. The survey asked what we get out of snowmobiling and applied a cluster analysis to plot out a whole lot of reasons into some kind of meaningful, axis based map.

Among the most common reasons people like snowmobiling, first and foremost is to simply be active out of doors in the winter. Some want to be ‘social’ and hang with family and friends, other enjoy the isolation found within their helmet and pursue long adventures, then there are those who are all about competing against others (and themselves). Many enjoy tinkering with the mechanical bits while others want to customize the look and bling their ride… Chance are we all have a certain level in common with each stereotype.

Digging deeper, it appears we are all seeking some form of gratification, knowing that what we do on our sleds will get the juices flowing. It’s exciting, challenging, sometimes scary but always fun. So when I tell you on average we all flip our machines every two to three years and often times the machine (especially these days) is in near perfect running condition – why? Because we are simply attracted to something new. It would be unfair to say we are bored after-all how can you be bored with a 1oo plus horsepower bolted to a 600lb cookie sheet.

Now comes a day in my life, trying to explain to someone who may not ride, just why we need more power, more suspension, more anything, when the real answer is…. we don’t…. WE WANT MORE and we are willing to pay for it, but it does not make sense. Not until you understand the psychological implications.

The industry as a whole has done a great job over the past 30 years of conditioning us to ‘want’ new machines by constantly raising the bar in technical increments. And we keep reaching for our wallets but is their a limit? What has been happening to all those used sleds? What about the next generation of used being traded off? What have we done to take care of those that really do need a snowmobile? How easy is it now for our kids to enter the game or people completely new to snowmobiling?

It is no secret we are an aging demographic who have been sledding for years and almost, without exception, got into it in the first place only because we grew up in a family that was focused outdoors and had snowmobiles or our neighbors / best friends did – but what about our kids?

I don’t expect this circle to be broken any time soon but I do wonder where we are going and in a sad way, I miss the old days when snowmobiling was so much simpler. It was just as much fun and a lot easier to share. Meanwhile I will continue to push for a 200 hp / 500+ lb machine and try to keep the cost under whats left of my mortgage!  😉

Cheers  cr

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18 Responses to “The price of admission”

  1. Todd says:

    “Now comes a day in my life, trying to explain to someone who may not ride, just why we need more power, more suspension, more anything,”

    I’m an engineer and to me that is obviously where Yamaha falls down. Your competitor’s engineers and designers ride and they hire guys that ride. When I get on my Nytro I see what the Blue boys were thinking but it immediately becomes obvious they don’t ride and (maybe more importantly) they didn’t ride what they built.

    On the plus side, that is what the racing program does for you. Gets the riders passion and fire pushed into the engineers head. You can’t leave those engineers on an island, you’ve got to get them on the front lines with the people who take their designs to the limit. That’s what stokes those guys, building something that gets gushed over by the best riders. “Out building him” if you will; if you can get the smart guys up in it, they will get it.

    Of course if you’re talking about management, they’re brain dead, so just tell them their margin will go up.

    LOL nice one… but I can’t touch your last comment… I’m in management!! yikes!! 😉

  2. Mr. T says:

    We all would love to have the latest and greatest but what is more important for the future of our sport. I think it is what got us all involved as kids, the passion that was created when we were riding a simple design that was like the eveready bunny and never quit (enticer class sled). In my opinion this is what Yamaha and the whole industry should build or at least add to their line ups. What do you think about a basic vector style sled with simple engineering to keep the costs down. Two 4 stroke engine’s, one at 40hp and one at 60hp, with pricing point’s at $5000 and $7000. Can it be done?

    You nailed it Mr T… but can it be done? that is a good question. I have a few more thoughts on the whole deal but probably shouldn’t go on about it 😉 Would be nice to discuss over a coupla pints!!

  3. Bosco says:

    After getting my 3 older Pro Action chassis sleds (’98 XTC 600, ’99 SX 500 and ’05 Venom)ready for the season for the wife and kids I too miss the old days when snowmobiling was much simpler. I have to admit when I look at the new Indy 600 it really makes me think with its throw back to the old days approach, am I really having more fun with 150hp, EXUP, Power steering, Big $$$$, and so forth? It’s real head scratcher. LOL!

  4. scott says:

    Neat article!

    I think Yamaha over thinks things too much. Their sleds just need to be lighter and better handling. It’s that simple. People aren’t buying their sleds because they are old, heavy, don’t handle as well as the other OEM’s and are more expensive than the other makes. The original benefits of the 4-stroke motors have been eclipsed with the new 2-stroke injection systems and that the other OEM’s also sell 4-strokes. I bet few riders even come close to putting 10,000 miles on their 4-strokes so it does it really matter that the engine can easily last 3-5 times longer than that?

    Something the research project is missing is that in general ALL snowmachines are fragile, unreliable pieces of junk when compared to street bikes and 4-wheelers. I have to spend way more time working on my sleds than I ever do my quads or street bikes. It’s just the way they are constructed. Fortunately they aren’t too complicated and a guy can fix them himself but after 4,000-5,000 miles most sleds need money put into them and the chassis and suspension parts are starting to fatigue and its easier to sell and move on to a new one. I think this factor plays into people buying new sleds more than anything else. Once a casual owner experiences a couple repair bills from the dealer they would rather buy a new one than sink money into the old one. In a sense its a lot like cars (in my area anyway) most people don’t seem to keep them for years and years and trade or sell them off long before they are worn out.

  5. DNR says:

    Like. Your write and read, cr.
    How about, jump out of your little VW getting to work, then operate the largest ‘open pit’ mining hauler.
    I’ve seen it! Maybe there is balance.
    After all, I managed to write & sign my own humble paycheck for 32 years in the interests of a good product future for many concerned. Those being clients, family and friends. All sustained to date on the returns of small maket share.
    Reminiscing a bit, there probably wasn’t any “cut and dried” template to maintain in business and inventory. You just go with what you know. Re-Do wouldn’t help.
    My way of thinking through this: we all have trophies to ‘spit shine,’ some one will still find a spot that’s been missed.

  6. Larry D Lagergren says:

    I don’t expect this circle to be broken any time soon either CR, I to miss the old days when snowmobiling was so much simpler AND It was EVEN MORE FUN as I was in Heaven On My 74 GPX 433, with NO WARMERS, LITTLE SUSPENSION and MODERATE HP by today’s standards….BUT HAD SO SO MUCH FUN on it.
    Awe the Glory Days when Each Year Yamaha kept getting better and better with NEW STUFF & FIRST’S in the industry. Seems those Magical Days Of Surprises are long gone and we are living in a world of Drive Through Connivances. At least I have several decades of some Awesome Memories with my YAMAHA’S.
    CR…Keep pushing for a 200 hp / 500+ lb machine and try to keep the cost under what’s left of my mortgage! 😉

  7. Mark says:

    Heh Chris,
    Great Post! Snowmobiling very simply put, now lets all pray for some snow

  8. Daranello says:


    I do have needs, I NEED to a better suspensions cause I’m almost 40 and my back can’t take to bump anymore and I NEED to be able to work Monday morning
    I NEED reliability cause I NEED to come home at night or my wife will kick my butt
    I NEED to be the fastest across Kevlar lake cause my buddies won’t let me hear the end of it if I don’t win
    I NEED light weight cause I still can’t lift the sled by myseft went suck
    I NEED more range cause there less fuel stop and it’s a long walk in the north.

    WHat do I want?… I WANT my friends (red, yellow or Green) sleds to break down so my Yamaha can tow them home and I can tease them all summer about the Junk they ride…..That’s what I WANT! LOL

    Beauty! I rest my case. lol cr

  9. Iveyrider says:

    Very complicated dynamics surrounding our sport. Passion,tradition and memories are hard to market!————- I just like the smell!

    Great stuff CR. Keep up the good work.

  10. snoguzzler says:

    We had snow down in the south this year for the first time in a long time. I was out with my kids a couple times. I have a 11 Apex and they have a 91 Phazer. We traded back and forth several times and I tell you I had ALOT of fun tossing the Phazer around. It sure stirred up alot of memories. I’m sure the kids were getting sick of my reminiscing at each stop! Other then the acceleration it was just as nice as the Apex on our trails, so I know what you are saying.

  11. Niklas says:

    What i miss is going off trail with a short track that floats on the snow, and when i get stuck it is easy to get it out alone did it with an sxr my last shortie but it wasnt easy and im getting older and sleds heavier in the snow

    Not to mention the cost if you find a stump or rock under the snow with that new top performer 😉 cheers cr

  12. Yellowknife says:

    hmmmm, I strongly agree with much of what scott said above;

    Yamaha needs lighter machine’s to attract more buyers. Icing on the cake? lighter leads to better handling. Con? lighter could mean less reliable OR more expensive.

    The original benefits of the 4 stroke have fallen on deaf ears for many riders, and because the average mileage ridden is so low most people will never see the high mileage benefit of a 4 stroke, especially if they upgrade every 2 or 3 years. That’s one area that actually benefits a high mileage rider like me, Yamaha’s engine reliability. 16,000 km’s on the XTX now. I’ve never seen anything higher than 7,000 without an engine failure, but to be clear, even I’m considering the value of a better handling sled in exchange for an engine that needs a rebuild every 5,000 km’s. I can afford to have a backup sled (or two) while the other(s) sled(s) is down. Also, fuel economy is no longer a 4 stroke niche, the ETEC gets better fuel mileage and the Cleanfire is within 10 km’s per 40 litre’s of fuel. It’s time to get some range out of these Yamaha’s, no more smaller tanks.

    And I really agree that snowmachine’s are fragile, you pay through the nose and the damn things are the highest maintenance power sport product i’ve ever owned, but I’ve adapted to that as most of us have, it just would be amazing to get more miles outta those bushing’s, and things like the exhaust should not be wearing out, period. I’ll pay more for a done up sled so I spend less time replacing parts and more time riding. I’ll pay more to get better, if the value is real. I’m spending thousands on maintenance (when out of warranty) anyway. And as far as engineer’s riding these sleds, some of the designs have driving me nuts, like the amount of snow that gets into the engine compartment. My tool kit being frozen solid in ice in the nose of the machine, having to thaw the bag to get that damn zipper open to get the spare belt out, these are all practical things that may be small but add up. There’s always room for improvement, but in Yamaha’s case of the same old for some time now, there’s a huge need for improvement. I’ll drop another $45,000+ on three more units if Yamaha delivers.

    It is definitely easier for a high miler like me to upgrade after warranty is out rather than maintain. More expensive to upgrade? Definitely, almost 2 to 1, but add the fun factor of having the latest and greatest, and there’s a lot to be said for the feel and smoothness of a new machine that isn’t going beyond all of its tolerance specs from wearing out and in need of maintenance more often as the mileage packs on.

    The Phazer is sold, and I’m ready for new but it has to be improved significantly over what I’m riding now, and I want to stay with this company.


    P.S. You sure feed my speculation about many things above, like a new sled for youth or beginner riders, something to replace the bravo, and significant improvement in the utility marker for those in ‘need’, and a 500 pound high performance machine, and giving the mountain guys what they want, light weight. I can’t see it all in one year but the writing is on the wall for all of it and if Yamaha doesn’t deliver then they’re missing the boat on what the consumer wants and has been screaming for 😉

    Thanks Allan, for a guy who snowmobiles on the ‘moon’, you sure have a hec of a lot of good insights. Must be something in the clean Arctic air you and Scott are breathing 🙂 cheers cr

  13. Steve Roberts says:

    Hey CR
    Yunno I love new products and the pride of ownership that comes with them. Unfortunately for winter power sports it seems like such a short season , and the unreliable weather making for disappointment year after year, that has worn off for me. I used to love long trail rides even though I was riding a 98 VK,
    had all my stuff and honey bee with me, reliable and easy to work on if something where to go. I ve put 33,000 km on it and just can’t get boned up about a new sled. What really has been rewarding is working with the clubs BEAST and Calabogie high caliber persons, relentless pursuit of pure snowmobiling. I love going out and working on the trails either alone or with a crew, my ol Boris Yeltsin VK fits right in , and I’m in luv with the ol girl all over. Maybe manufacturers can harness some of this type of enthusiasm to market common sense products that are also profit makers. Would Yami make any profit and sales if they dug out the old moulds and punched out some ET 340s @ say 6000 .00 ? I’m not the smartest but I just can’t see the sustainable business plan for the future profitability of the sport from anyone’s angle in the last few years. An end game plan may be needed….


  14. Brady says:

    Wants, needs, wishes, I definitly fall into the wants with a side of wishes when it comes to snowmobiles. But if it wasn’t for the wanters there would be no snowmobile market. So bring on the 200hp, 500lbs. snowmobile, but watch out for cost because I can see the industry slowly pricing themselves out of business! So you might be right with a smaller cheaper sled. But I can still wish! Just don’t ever get rid of the 4 stroke engines, because I still play the fuel and reliability card every time I go out to ride. And I ride with some new E-tecs and others, I go were they go(just not as fast) and I do it with less fuel, no injector oil, and I have towed home a 2012 e-tec already this year. That is why I ride Yamaha! Great article by the way Chris!

  15. Low Slung says:

    Snowmobiling follows the hype,hype sells sleds,sleds that are not in hype get left behind(which falls into the entry level,sub 60hp class).Ski-doos freestyle was the most recent attempt but not even there marketing spin machine could save it from extinction.Will the industry survive?Seems to be a massive demand for SXS in the $20000 plus range(BRP,CAT,POL),so price doesn,t matter if theres easy credit and a hot economy(but they don,t depend on white stuff to go).I bet if you had a loonie for ever time somebody asked why yamaha don,t produced the sno-scoot/sno-sport again you could ……………well,just sell a skis and track kit on a raptor 125 and call it the sno-scoot II?

  16. pat the rat says:

    i ”need ” a snowmobile to access my camp in the middle of nowhere and i ”want” a reliable sled,that’s why i choose yamaha,and unlike some who mention that they would sacrafice motor for lightweight.i cant imagine going back to ordering parts for a blown 2 smoke,the season is not that long so when the snow is on the ground,i want to be riding,not waiting for back order parts that another 100 guys are also waiting for,please,please keep making reliable 4 strokes,my snowmobiling experiences are so much better since the 4s came to market,chow

  17. Carl says:

    Where the used 4 strokes go? People like me of course! I love my 2000 SRX with monoshock. But I only ride 600-800km a year so its plenty for my needs…until I tried my friend’s Apex! Soon enough I’ll be hunting down a really nice just broken in Apex for 5 grand tops. Perfect.

    Purfect LOL thx cr

  18. Yellowknife says:

    Question sir!

    Why has Yamaha stopped making parts available for dealerships to service rebuildable yamaha shocks?

    Do I detect a shift in shock suppliers for future models?

    And, can you point out for us which dealers in Canada (or close to me) are capable of servicing/rebuilding Yamaha shocks if they have the parts in stock?

    I have 7 remaining XTX shocks that haven’t exploded yet that I figure I better get serviced, or am I SOL?


    I need to confirm the circumstances but if I recall it boiled down to Soqi our main shock supplier, not making the parts available to us. A secondary issue was concerns for proper dealer training / information and special tools. We did work with several ‘approved’ dealerships set up as rebuild centers but I believe that was for the KYB shocks. There are some shops that have the ability and parts to work on KYB, Fox and Ohlins but I must check on the Soqi deal. End of the day. they are all rebuildable> we just haven’t made it easy. As the distributor we recognize the need and wish to support but there are some hurdles that have made it difficult… will get back to you on this. cheers cr

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