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The decline of snowmobiling in Minnesota

Courtesy of Twin Cities Business
In Minnesota, the number of registered snowmobiles peaked in 2001, at 297,623 machines. Now there are fewer than 200,000 registered.

Snowmobiles provided the DNA for Polaris Industries Inc. when the company was born in the 1950s in Roseau. But the snowmobile market is stagnant, even in Minnesota where natives love to talk about snowfall totals.

Polaris, which started making all-terrain vehicles in 1985, generated $4.5 billion in total sales in 2016. The revenue that comes from the snowmobile segment has dropped to just 8 percent. “We don’t solely break out annual sled sales,” says Polaris spokeswoman Jessica Rogers; bundling snowmobile sales with revenue that flows from snowmobile parts, garments and accessories comes to 8 percent or $342 million for 2016.

Polaris holds more than 27 percent of the snowmobile industry’s market share. Yet snowmobiles are now one product line within Polaris rather than the defining product closely linked to the Minnesota lifestyle.

Consumers have responded favorably to year-round off-road vehicles, which have fueled much of Polaris’ growth. The snowmobile segment has been flat over the last several years, Rogers says. In January the company introduced the Indy Evo, which she says is aimed at new riders. The machine is lower and narrower than a full-sized snowmobile, and the machine’s design is expected to attract new riders who want a greater feeling of stability and confidence.

Twin Cities BusinessA Research and Markets report from 2017 says the high costs of snowmobiles and the high susceptibility to weather conditions create market challenges for the snowmobile industry. Licensing data shows that a smaller portion of the adult population rides snowmobiles. In Minnesota, the number of registered snowmobiles peaked in 2001, at 297,623 machines. Now there are fewer than 200,000 registered. “New snowmobile registrations have remained relatively stable in the last decade, with the range being 9,000 to 12,000 new each year since 2007,” says Andrew Korsberg, a program consultant with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Minnesota’s population grew by about 600,000 people since 2001, even as snowmobile registrations fell sharply.

Utah has seen a similar pattern. Utah State University released a report in 2017 that showed the portion of households owning snowmobiles declined over 20 years, while the state’s population increased 77 percent. The average age of a Utah snowmobile owner is 54, and it appears that young people in Minnesota and Utah are choosing other ways to invest in their leisure time.

This article is reprinted in partnership with Twin Cities Business.

Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Greg Laden on 03/02/2018 - 11:58 am.

    Can you say, “Global Warming”?

    Many media outlets have, over recent years, maintained an editorial policy to not mention terms like “climate change” or “global warming” in stories about the effects of climate change/global warming.

    I am shocked to see evidence that MinnPost may have this policy. Yes, you mention lower snowfall totals, but this story is about a global trend in change of weather patterns that has been hitting ALL of the snow sports industries, and the trend is caused by the human release of fossil greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.

    Please, people.

    On a related note, do check out the just-released documentary on this, “Saving Snow.” I just saw a screening arranged by the Northwest Metro Climate Action group. I think the documentary is showing around a lot of places. It focuses on the skii industry more than the sno-machine industry, but it does discuss the latter. And, it is straightforward on anthropocentric climate change.

  2. Submitted by ian wade on 03/02/2018 - 04:42 pm.

    Depending on the location,

    there’s plenty of snow in Minnesota. I sold my sled a few years ago for the simple reason that there are fewer and fewer places to ride. Suburban sprawl and development has taken over land that was once prime to get out and ride on. Couple that with the lack of trails and volunteers to maintain them and the hobby lost its allure. In general, ATV’s have a variety of uses beyond recreation. If I were to do it all again, I’d definitely consider an ATV over a snowmobile by a wide margin.

  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/04/2018 - 10:59 am.

    Business reporting?

    I just don’t get it. This is a business story from a business publication and the business being reported on claims that they don’t break out “sled sales” from their other sales revenue in their accounting? If this is true, this is a horribly managed business because you would need to know that in order to make any rational business decisions. If sled sales are down but clothing sales are up… you need to know that. Would we not expect an audience of business people to be aware of that?

    Then we go on to state that sled sales are down, but they’ve been stable for the last decade. So then the story is that sled sales dropped ten years ago, and have been stable ever since? Is that even a story in the year 2018?

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