Snowmobiles: Rapid sled action set to sizzle

The sleds are good for power hooning and serious stuff.
The sleds are good for power hooning and serious stuff.

Snowmobiles, not surprisingly, aren't big business in New Zealand. But it's growing, and the country's first sled race event is coming up next month.

The industry is made up of a trio of players - Ski-Doo, Yamaha and Polaris - which between them sell dozens, not hundreds, of these snowbound rocket ships every year.

"It's not a big market," admits Ski-Doo distributor Richard Shaw. "They're only useful for about three or four months, and then they're back in the shed."

While slick SUVs and snowchains outsell snowmobiles by a colossal margin, anyone who has been stuck by the side of a frozen road waiting for a sign to magically reopen the Desert Road, or has been stranded in the thriving metropolis of Twizel when a big snowstorm hit, there's definitely a use for them. Even if it is just for a few months.

Wanaka retailer Perry Allen of Torque Marine has added a few hardcore enthusiasts to the core clientele of skifields recently.

"Snowmobiling has a been a bit of strange one here," he explains.

"Most of them have been bought second-hand from skifields or imported privately. But now that they're available at retail people are getting into it more. A lot of the guys buying are fun-hunters - they've used them overseas while they've worked on skifields in our off-season - so they know just how great they are."

Costing between $12,000 and $20,000-plus, snowmobile buyers include ski-bunnies that fancy a bit of powered hooning, and adventure operators that use them to access out-of-the-way places quickly.

Allen admits that while the snowmobile usage window is just a few months, but that's not radically different to a lot of powerboat users from the Lakes District when the temperature drops.

"They're just good fun, and it's definitely an area that's growing."

Roundhill Skifield at Cardrona will be spurring that growth on August 18 when it runs a hillclimb for the superquick sleds - New Zealand's first snowmobile racing event.

"I'm pretty sure there'll be some carnage," says Allen, "I just hope it's not me!"

- NZ Herald

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