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Inside (and Outside) Arctic Cat's Mountain R&D Test Facility


(2/20/2013)

Thief River Falls is the epicenter for Arctic Cat snowmobiles, of course. But for six months beginning each December, Island Park is the company’s annex for mountain the testing and calibration and calibration of its mountain sleds.

There, in a non-descript building on the edge of town, a crew of four spends their days riding the backcountry of the Centennial Mountains testing, evaluating and helping to improve current and future Arctic Cat M sleds.

Joining them on a weekly basis are engineers and technicians from TRF come to assist the Island Park crew as well as experience for themselves what new facts, directions and ideas are percolating from the days spent riding in this western riding haven.

The Island Park Mountain R&D Test Facility has been part of Arctic Cat’s engineering and test efforts since 1999. The facility and the people who staff it are a big part of the M series success story.

 

The Arctic Cat Mountain Test Team

The Island Park test crew consists of (L-to-R) Robbie Steinmann, Shay Smith, Todd Tupper and Kellen Ballard. Each is an expert/pro level rider who is equally adept at tuning particular elements of a machine.

Smith is the shop foreman and senior member of the crew, having worked there for 8 years. Smith can do it all…ride like a madman, evaluate, engineer and wear a handlebar mustache that’s truly badazz.

Tupper is a top hill climb racer who has to the Island Park facility for 8 years and worked there for the past four. Tupper’s primo expertise is suspension calibration, but he’s an ace on all aspects of evaluation and engineering.

Steinmann has worked at the Island Park facility for 3 years

Ballard is the newest crew member, having been working at the Island Park facility for the past two years. He also competes in the RMSHA circuit.

In addition to these four, Al Shimpa offices out the facility in his role as Team Arctic Hillclimb Coordinator.

 

Arctic Cat's Mountain sled test facility

With the Centennial Mountains just a few squeezes of the throttle away from the shop, the Island Park facility is an ideal location for the Mountain Field Test program. There’s good riding here from December through March, with elevations that range from 6,000 to 9,000 feet, it’s ideal for calibrating engine management systems and clutching for most mountain conditions (note: Arctic Cat also tests and calibrates at higher elevations in Colorado).

 

Arctic Cat's Mountain sled test facility

In the shop portion of the facility there’s room for multiple sleds. Another area includes a small fabrication shop with a mill, lathe and plasma cutter, plus there’s an office area with the requisite telecommunications that connect with Arctic Cat and the outside world.

 

Arctic Cat's Mountain sled test facility

While the four test riders/engineers are the mainstays of the facility, there’s also a steady stream of Arctic Cat engineers and personnel who flow in and out. Oftentimes it’s for pure engineering purposes and other times it’s to prepare sleds for certain event. Many of the sleds in these photos were being prepped for the snowmobile media test sessions that occurred last Feb.-March.

 

Arctic Cat's Mountain sled test facility

One of the many tests taking place on this particular day was comparing new clutch calibrations between two M800s. Ballard swaps the cam on the driven and, a few minutes later, will be riding the sled through feet of powder. Pretty cool.

 

Arctic Cat Mountain test riders Robbie & Kellen

There’s a lot of collaboration that occurs here, as the riders help work on each other’s machines so that they can go riding together (for safety reasons).

 

Arctic Cat Mountain test rider and racer Todd Tupper

A well-stocked supply of parts is available, including shock springs for Tupper to choose from.

 

Arctic Cat Mountain Team Leader Troy Halvorson

Troy Halvorson is now the Engineering Team Leader for Mountain and select XF models. While he’s based out of Thief River Falls, he spends a lot of time at the Island Park facility.

 

Arctic Cat suspension engineer Jeff Olson

As the lead shock/suspension person for Arctic Cat, Jeff Olson is another TRF engineer who spends time in Island Park. At this moment Olson was revalving shocks in the never-ending effort to optimize suspension calibration on a machine.

 

Arctic Cat Engineer Gary Homme

Gary Homme is an engineer who spends most of his time in TRF, yet logs a few trips to Island Park (and other remote locations) each year.

 

Arctic Cat's Mountain sled test facility

There’s a buzz of activity that defines the atmosphere of this place. The pace, or rhythm, is of constant movement, whether it’s working on sleds or testing them.

 

The Arctic Cat Mountain Test Team

Indeed, riding and evaluation snowmobiles it the principal reason the Island Park facility exists. The backyard, if you will, is one of the nicest snowmobile playgrounds in North America, with every condition you could want: meadows, backcountry, gnarly cornices and yes, even trails (hundreds of miles of them actually).

 

The Arctic Cat Mountain Test Team

On this particular day the group swelled with extra engineers and a few marketing people.

 

The Arctic Cat Mountain Test Team

Shay Smith doing his daily ritual. Cool job, huh?

 

Arctic Cat Mountain test rider and racer Todd Tupper

Todd Tupper doing the same.

 

Riding with the Arctic Cat Mountain Test Team

Halfway through the day, a stop at the Elk Lake Resort for lunch presented a sweet photo op.

 

Arctic Cat Test Rider Robbie Stienmann

After lunch… more testing. Here’s Robbie Steinmann doing a tail-stand that would make Bobby Flame seriously jealous.

 

Arctic Cat test riders compare notes

It’s common for these guys to stop and discuss what they’re seeing and feeling on the sleds, exchange machines and then repeat.

 

Arctic Cat's Mountain sled test facility

Back at the shop, Ballard (L) and Steinmann (R) talk with engineer Brent “Bart” Magner. The constant exchange of information informs the decisions Arctic Cat makes on every single component of each machine.

 

The Arctic Cat Mountain Test Team

Indeed, the healthy exchange of opinions and ideas from their creative minds is a ritual that serves as the launch pad for current and future products.

Thanks for reading.



Comments (10):

Pluedy says:
2/25/2013 5:08:00 PM

Nice job on the story. Note that these guys all wear caps that fit. Just sayin...
Mike F says:
2/25/2013 5:09:00 PM

Jeez John, I feel so bad for you to have to travel so much for your job, and to have to go to such crummy locations! lol! Keep up the great work. Never knew the place existed. Kind of like area 51 for the mountain crowd. Good stuff!
Mike F says:
2/25/2013 5:09:00 PM

Jeez John, I feel so bad for you to have to travel so much for your job, and to have to go to such crummy locations! lol! Keep up the great work. Never knew the place existed. Kind of like area 51 for the mountain crowd. Good stuff!
Ron Petzel says:
2/25/2013 9:08:00 PM

Hello, I have been riding Arctic Cat sleds since I was 5 years old, I have always wanted to ride in the mountains and now have 2 sons that would have a dream come true if anyone could help us out with a ride in the mountains, we just had a trip in the UP and it was great,
Please let me know if anyone can help.

Thanks Ron
Aaron 144 says:
2/26/2013 8:21:00 AM

I have had the honor of riding with these guys at the photo shoot in early December the last few years, an absolute blast and high light. This Stienmann that you speak of does and goes places on that snow machine that most would not think possible, not that Todd and Shay are far behind, Robbie is just like watching a circus sideshow, you just shake your head and wonder how he does it! Arctic mountain consumers are lucky to have these guys!!!
Snowman764 says:
2/28/2013 9:19:00 PM

Let it be written - let it be said - if the Iceman provides a commentary like this, all is true. He too can provide a documentary on how the impossible is accomplished on a sled like no other. Very cool article on the Island Park crew.
Deco says:
1/14/2015 10:00:00 AM

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Marlon says:
1/15/2015 7:14:00 PM

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Iverson says:
1/19/2015 12:43:00 AM

I hope Palin does run for the nomination in 2012. She does a lot to dteierfntiafe herself and her supporters from the left. Overall, I think the Republicans fought a battle over the 'soft' left voters, and lost to Obama. McCain made too many compromises to attract the left.In particular I think they're losing core support from long time Republicans. First, stem that loss by moving further away from the extreme left (like the Democrats) and back toward the centre.Glad I'm typing, I could never say that with a straight face ;-) http://hcmmknnbcme.com [url=http://rkvywjbjxqo.com]rkvywjbjxqo[/url] [link=http://wlvxclpmlnj.com]wlvxclpmlnj[/link]
zig rutchasky says:
1/20/2016 9:44:00 AM

I'm jealous! Test riding sleds is totally my dream job!

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