If you’ve never really “gotten” the whole snowmobiling thing, leave it to a guy who’s been in the business for more than 40 years to distill it for you: “If you’re not into the whole winter exercise thing—you know, skiing or snowshoeing—you still have to find something to do with yourself,” says Dave Bednarick, whose family has run a snowmobile dealership and repair biz in Cadillac since 1969. “Some of us are gearheads, so it’s a ‘motorized’ thing you can do in the winter.” Makes sense to us, Dave—though we know there are those of you who enjoy trudging through winter with a boot in both worlds. Here are a few more bits of snowmobiling wisdom that the owner of Dave’s Yamaha Suzuki was kind enough to share with us.
Yeah, I mean, it was just starting to explode in the mid-1960s and early-’70s. In fact, at that time, there were over a hundred different brands of snowmobiles. It was like anyone who was manufacturing lawnmowers was making them. But there were just too many manufacturers. And that combined with the economy slowing down in the mid-’70s and few bad winters for snow caused almost all of them to go out of business.
And so what were those early snowmobiles like?
Well, with a lot of those brands back then, people bought them knowing they were probably going to break down. They didn’t turn very well, and there was no suspension. But the funny thing is, today, the interest in vintage snowmobiles has just exploded. You used to be able to find old snowmobiles all over the place; now, it’s getting to the point where it’s hard to score a “barn find” anymore. There are even vintage races. A lot of it is the nostalgia of these baby boomers who had snowmobiles when they were young.
And today’s snowmobiles are a different story, right?
For sure. I remember back in the 1980s, the fastest machines were less than a hundred horsepower. Now, they’re almost 200—that’s more horsepower than a lot of cars have. Things like heated grips and thumb warmers are pretty much standard. And they have more storage. All that has changed what people do with them. Back in the day, people would mostly go on little short trips or just cruise around the field behind their house. Now, people do multi-day trips and travel hundreds of miles. And there’s a whole system of groomed trails people can travel on. There are even apps you can get for your smartphone that show you different trails and routes.
And how does the snow today compare to back in the day?
Well, it’s true. We’re completely at the mercy of Mother Nature, so it’s hard to guess from year to year. There’s even a residual effect from one year to the next. Like, if people have it in their minds that there was a good winter last year, that might help sales. And it’s kind of funny: A lot of people who live around here go to the U.P. to ride. And a lot of people from downstate come here to ride. Here in Cadillac, we’re lucky because we’re in a snowbelt and we get that lake effect. It’s probably one of the farthest south places that, year to year, you can usually count on decent snow.