By Mark Lester: Regular readers of Supertrax know I’ve been crowing about the emergence of a new kind of snowmobiler with different expectations than those of past participants. I’ve carved out the identity of the emerging “free rider” and his or her predisposition to ride off-trail and chase “pow.”
My reward for this narrative has been mixed. I’ve heard positively from younger riders – exactly the demographic our sport is looking to attract. I’ve also heard from snowmobilers of the median and older age demographic (median is around 46) who disagree with my assertion we should try to embrace the freeriding legions.
Interesting to me that those who think we shouldn’t embrace any attempt to accommodate the freeriding demo offer up virtually no alternatives. Before you fire up your keyboard with hate mail, let me explain.
This emerging demographic is exactly what the sport must attract for long term sustainability. We need these younger, affluent participants. We need them badly and we need them now.
Does this make older, traditional “snowmobilers” bad people? No and in fact we must tread carefully here. The sport would not be what it is without this important generation of trail building, trail riding, club-centric participants. Truth is, we need these people to teach younger participants about trails, land use, land access, grooming, trespassing and dozens of other foundational issues surrounding the sport.
Unfortunately, an amicable marriage of the older with the younger isn’t happening. I attend a number of snowmobiling events each year that revolve around state and provincial trail sanctioning and governance. These are well-attended, important annual activities that often set the tone for organized snowmobiling in the coming year(s). Important issues of trail funding and trail development, groomer purchasing and groomer funding are just a few of the issues these high level meetings wrestle with. Sadly, the average age at many of these forums continues to climb year after year. That’s not to say there isn’t new, younger blood emerging.
In some instances there is. However, I think it’s safe to say the new blood we’re seeing is not in the volume needed to ensure snowmobiling remains the number one trail based motorized recreation in North America.
Healthy Increase in Younger Participants
On the up side, I am seeing a healthy increase in younger participants on the trail the past five winters. We’re seeing younger participants bolstering our social media channels here at Supertrax Media Inc. This is both encouraging and exciting. Here’s where it’s not so good: I talk to these younger riders all season long on the trail, in pit stops and at events. They are passionate about snowmobiling but many don’t appreciate the current rejection of their interpretation of the sport. They want to know what’s next for snowmobiling. In reality they are already defining the “what’s next” without the support or approval of the sport’s stalwart, mature demographic.
Rather Pay More for Trails
There’s another issue with younger riders: Many in this generation have little free time and as a result are not interested in attending meetings and conventions or contributing to the betterment of the sport’s most important asset, trails. It’s a different world for this younger generation. To maintain lifestyles, moms and dads work full time. Snowmobiling is still part of their lifestyle but the time required to take on club leadership just isn’t there. Instead, many would rather pay more for trails and not be expected to contribute to their sustainability the way the older generation has.
Frankly, time is flying by. Trails are being lost from inconsiderate, unregulated, illegal off trail riding. At the same time little direction or answers have come from state and provincial sanctioning bodies to manage the much maligned, growing snowmobile genre called “freeriding” – unless you count “no” as an answer. While this is going on, the people we’ve taken for granted who anchor the sport from the club and association level are getting older and less likely to continue working.
With sales of freeriding sleds and flatland deep snow sleds growing every year, it’s time to look the new and changing face of the sport straight in the eye.
Used with permission of Supertrax Media Inc.