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HOME arrow - Outdoor recreation arrow Derrick Crandall - Mister Snowmobile
Derrick Crandall - Mister Snowmobile
Written by Scott Silver   
Friday, 15 December 2006

The snowmobile.
It's a machine many people once loved to hate.
The early models were noisy.
Many were dangerous.

Those were the first words of the 1980 article which appears below  -- and here is a picture of one of those dangerous early models.

Compared to today's sportsters, I'd say this old Polaris looks positively benign.


This article is a blast from the past containing buried treasure for who would find if of interest to know more about the early history of snowmobiling in Yellowstone National park and what Derrick Crandall was doing before he became the President of the American Recreation Coalition and before America's federal land managers starting eating out of his hands.


--- begin quoted ---

December 19, 1980
BC cycle
By RON KOEHLER, United Press International

The snowmobile. It's a machine many people once loved to hate.

The early models were noisy. Many were dangerous.

With few public trails set aside for snowmobile use, early enthusiasts blazed paths in the wilderness, scattering wildlife, trampling whatever got in their way.

Legislation was introduced in a number of states to limit or outlaw snowmobiles. Snowmobiles were barred from most state or national parks. Among landowners, snowmobiles were as popular as motorcycle gangs.

But the snowmobile has refused to go away.

Although annual sales now average 200,000 units per year -- less than half of the industry peak of 500,000 in the early 70s. The industry says more people try snowmobiling each year.

Snowmobile resorts have cropped up throughout the snowbelt. They have helped rejuvenate the winter economy of small towns from the Rockies to the Great Lakes.

The transformation of the snowmobile from outlaw vehicle to family sport machine is the result of an industry drive to improve both its product and its tarnished image.

Funds invested in research and development made the machines safer and quieter. The industry lobbied for favorable legislation and public trails for riders. Grassroots organization brought enthusiasts into clubs that combined fellowship with discipline.

But snowmobiling still has detractors.

The Sierra Club and many private landowners still seek to curb snowmobile use. Although the industry has changed the minds of many lawmakers, a large portion of the public still perceives the snowmobile as an expensive toy for Polar Bear Club types.

"It has still got the same problems," says Russ Shay, a Washington-based lobbyist for the Sierra Club. "The snowmobile makes every acre of land into a highway system."

Joe Alexander, director of the Minnesota's Division of Natural Resources, is typical of those who shared Shay's views in the early '70s, only to become a convert.

"I'd have been the first one to vote to abolish snowmobiles if a referendum would have been placed on the ballot," Alexander said. "But the snowmobile industry saved itself... the clubs and the industry saved it."

Douglas Eoute of New Hampshire's Bureau of Off Highway Vehicles: "Seven or eight years ago we had some real problems, but now they are welcome."

New Hampshire, like most states with large numbers of snowmobilers, requires snowmobile registration and bans the machines from roads. Also typical of most states is New Hampshire's policy of allowing snowmobile use on public lands.

A key to the turnaround has been the snowmobile club. The International Snowmobile Industry Association estimates there are 10,000 clubs in the United States and Canada.

One is VAST -- the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers.

"Back in 1970 we were running anywhere it was white," said Corinne Lawson, a housewife and secretary of the organization. "A lot of the landowners got very upset. It was like the cowboys and Indians."

When landowners began seeking legislation to ban snowmobiles from the state, snowmobilers organized and worked out a compromise. Their group negotiates for permission to cross a person's property. In return, it promises to maintain a snowmobile trail and stay off unmarked areas.

"We don't get as many complaints as before," Mrs. Lawson said. "Most clubs do their own policing because they don't want to lose permission to use the land."

The arrangement has worked well, for both snowmobilers and landowners.

"If I lived on this land, I'd ban snowmobiles because they are noisy, smelly and obnoxious," said one Vermont landowner. "But snowmobile clubs bend over backwards to keep landowners happy... (and) since we live 20 miles away and can't patrol the land ourselves, it's better to cooperate with a snowmobile group and at least get some degree of control."

Close-knit snowmobile clubs and well defined trails also cut down the number of injuries.

In Wisconsin, more than 1,000 persons were injured on snowmobiles in the winter of 1974-75. That number was whittled to 388 in 1978-79. Alexander says the number of fatal snowmobile accidents in Minnesota has dropped by more than a third.

Derrick Crandall, vice president of the snowmobile association, marks the recession and oil embargo of the mid-1970s as a turning point.

Before the oil shortage, 129 manufacturers -- including many fly-by-night operations -- competed with machines of widely disparate quality.

But in the fuel shortage and resulting economic crunch sales dropped from 450,000 machines in 1973 to 195,000 in 1977. All but seven companies abandoned the business.

The remaining manufacturers formed the ISIA, which did research and development, set safety standards and lobbied for legislation.

Crandall is proud of a letter of commendation by the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission.

The commission had considered action to police the industry. But it reviewed the self-instituted changes -- improved noise muffling systems, safer seats and rider training programs -- and recommended no federal intervention.

The latest safety commission survey ranks snowmobile-related injuries 54th among leisure activities.

Most observers agree the second most important step the industry and users took was creation of snowmobile trails.

South Dakota, Minnesota, Vermont, Wisconsin, Washington and Idaho use a portion of gasoline tax and other funds for public trails. Other states invest snowmobile registration fees in trail development.

In all, some 190,000 miles of public and private trails are now open to the snowmobiler.

The National Park Service last year opened nearly all its parks to snowmobilers. Yellowstone National Park has become a favorite.

The opening of the nation's park land that worries the Sierra Club.

Shay calls the snowmobile industry "by far one of the best organized recreation groups in the country."

"A lot of natural places that remain in the country remain that way because they're hard to get to," Shay said. "Even if 98 percent of the snowmobilers are responsible, there should be areas that are not open to snowmobiles. Some places are important enough that they ought to be preserved in a natural state."

Edgar Hetteen, an industry pioneer, built his first snowmobile in 1954. Hetteen, vice president of Arctic Enterprises Inc., embarked in 1960 on a 1,100-mile trek across Alaska to publicize the snowmobile. He says one of the great advantages of the machine is that it opens a new frontier to people who never before ventured into the winter wilderness.

Ironically, the economic crunch that set the industry back created a built-in market for the snowmobile. The public's perception of limited resources, both of oil and money, caused many vacationers to stay close to home.

That, Hetteen said, opened up the winter resort business in the snowbelt and led to increased snowmobile use. The industry estimates some 17 million people used snowmobiles last year and their use is growing by about 20 percent each year.

The economic advantages of snowmobiling for some communities have been enormous. Snowmobilers spend an estimated $2.6 billion yearly on the sport and have created some 110,000 jobs in the United States and Canada, the association reports.

In Grand Lake, Colo., a fishing resort that used to go into hibernation, the population of 300 now swells to 3,000 on winter weekends.

"It's not any exaggeration to say snowmobiling has kept the town alive in the winter," said Ken Roe, owner of Grand Country Sports.

In New York state, a study found a 130-mile trail in Warren County increased winter economic activity by 34 percent.

But Crandall said, "We have an interesting dilemma in talking to non-snowmobilers." They have a conception of the 1960s snowmobile.

"At that time a snowmobile could be heard a mile away. It would take 252 of today's snowmobiles to make the same noise as a vintage 1968 snowmobile."

"Really, what's happened with the snowmobile," said Minnesota's Alexander, "is kind of like the advent of the speedboat. It started out badly and then kind of settled down when the hotrodders got away from it."

Comments (2) >>

Hans Erdman said:

  About 10 years ago, I was a lone county park ranger on night x-c ski trail patrol when two teenagers on snowmobiles came the bend on a wooded ski trail and literally almost killed me, and sped off into the night. (We did follow the tracks and they were cited then next morning.)

Today I am a state park ranger and the director of a busy ski (and mountain bike) patrol group, but the problems remain the same. We have major problems keeping some snowmobilers off non-motorized trails, as soon as the snow falls. Despite signage, ski patrollers, rangers, sheriff and conservation officers, as well as an excellent working relationship with our local snowmobile clubs, some riders think snow on the ground is a license to go wherever they want, at whatever speed they want. For the most part, things have improved, but it only takes one to spoil the good work of a whole club.
December 20, 2006

Snowmobile trail maps said:

  I think this article does a great job of driving home the message of the majority of snowmobilers. You can great strides in safety and responsibility. I am glad the State Park Ranger pointed out they were some teenagers. Those of us who know the sport understand the importantace of respecting the land and our ability to operate on that land. I'm sure there are those who are just lost as well they just need snowmobile trail maps.
May 03, 2010
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Last Updated ( Friday, 15 December 2006 )

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