I had a short trip to Arctic Cat this week, to gather information for some stories and to take stock of the amazing early launch into winter.
Thankfully, much of the U.S. and Canada is blessed with good, early snow and cold temperatures. That’s certainly the case with most of Minnesota, where the ditches are full and the riding season is ON.
Unfortunately, those first few times down the ditch can prove troublesome for a few unlucky sleds, like this old soldier who survived the night along Hwy 10, east of Detroit Lakes, Minn.
Arriving at the Thief River Falls city limits sign on Hwy 59, the freshly groomed trail was like a welcome mat to my favorite place. All trips to Arctic Cat are good ones, but the winter trips have that extra bit of energy that’s good for a few extra beats of the ol’ ticker.
If my heart was racing from the snow-laden sights on the drive to TRF, it absolutely JUMPED when, upon arriving at Arctic Cat, there was a ZR 600 EFI Cross-Country parked at the plant.
Upon walking into the door, Tim Benedict was the first guy to greet me. Always good for a thought or two about the current state of the industry, Tim was also energized by winter’s grand entrance.
Frankly, he didn’t appear nearly as energized by my entrance.
My routine when arriving at Arctic Cat is to first stop in the Sales and Marketing department, where Rick Stokke is usually one of the first people I seen.
Stokke is an International Sales Manager at Arctic Cat. No, those are gang signs he’s throwing at me. It’s to represent the number 24, which was the exact anniversary of his years at Arctic Cat this past Monday.
A brief stop in the Call Center put me in touch with Bruce Bondy, Technical Service Supervisor and a 12-year veteran of Arctic Cat. Bruce manages several aspects of Service information and communication.
And he has a sweet Arctic Cat patch from the 1970s.
I’m always curious to see what flowing on the assembly lines, but there would be no cool pictures of sleds this week. The last of the 2014 snowmobiles were built prior to this trip, and now the assembly line was covered in tarps to prevent people from seeing what was “behind the curtain.”
That’s because they’re building pre-production 2015 models for upcoming dealer shows, consumer shows and media projects!
Of course Arctic Cat is always working machines whose year designation is well in advance of whatever the actual date is, whether it’s engineers who are working on sleds, ATVs and UTVs slated for five years from now, or pre-production units for next year.
I was about to sneak behind the current and grab a photo, but it would have made for an abrupt ending to my trip.
Two people working hard on “next year,” Arctic Cat Media Relations specialist Kale Wainer (left) and snowmobile Product Team Manager Lynn Berberich were discussing what’s new on select 2015 sleds.
Like always, good times are coming on the Cat.
That’s true for the company’s wheeled machines as well. Here ATV engineers Mark Esala (right) and Dan Johnson share a laugh at my expense during a discussion about the new Wildcat Trail UTV.
Johnson was one of the engineers who led the design and development of the new 700 4-stroke engine used in the Trail. He answered a few questions I had and posed for a couple pictures I shot for a story I’m working on about the engine.
Speaking of the Wildcat Trail… one of the units that journalists evaluated during the recent press launch was being inspected in the ATV shop. Jared Spindler (left) and Nathan Hunt were two of the engineers who helped create the 50-in. wide Trail, and were at that press launch. Both are extremely pleased with the positive reaction from all of the media who rode the newest Wildcats.
Elsewhere in the shop, Mike Morris, ATV Engineering Project Leader, was readying himself and a fleet of ATVs for a test trip in the southeastern U.S., where the current temperatures were 70 degrees warmer than the -20 F of Thief River Falls that day.
In the snowmobile engine shop, Greg Spaulding (left) chats with Bart Magner about some of the clutching data that Magner had gathered while testing a ZR6000 models earlier in the day.
The good, early start to winter has been a blessing for snowmobile engineering.
Back in the snowmobile engineering offices, Kevin Thompson (left), Kale Wainer (middle) and Joey Hallstrom were discussing a whole range of topics, from the cost of racing (Hallstrom’s son is a 120-class racer) to the current cost of new snowmobiles, and more.
Both Thompson and Hallstrom were recently questioned about what new snowmobiles they’d recommend by friends and/or relatives, who are getting back into the sport.
Interestingly, the friends who are getting back into the sport were a bit intimidated by the new 4-stroke snowmobiles engine displacement (such as the 1049cc or 1100cc mills available on Arctic Cats). In their minds, a 1100cc 4-stroke engine would be WAY too powerful, but a 600 2-stroke would be good. It illustrates that new and/or returning riders don’t fully understand the power/performance differences between two- and four-stroke engines.
Just across the hall from Hallstrom’s office, FOX Shox’s Rick Strobel (left) talked with engineers Jeff Olson (middle) and Brian Dick about the shock calibration testing they were doing this week.
Strobel puts countless hours and miles on Arctic Cat snowmobiles and UTVs, working with Arctic Cat engineers to develop and fine-tune suspension calibration.
With my work mostly complete, I made a quick stop at the Team Arctic Race Shop on the north end of town, which brought into sharp focus a department that’s wide-open-throttle this time of year.
Here Team Arctic’s Wes Selby poses with his ZR6000R Sno Pro sled he’s building for this weekend’s USXC cross-country opener on Pine Lake. After a very successful season in USXC last year, Selby will be one of the very top Pro racers on the circuit this year.
The fact that he’s already logged 2,000 miles in his new engineering role will undoubtedly help his early season sharpness.
After a few words of encouragement to Wes and everyone else in the Race Shop, it was time to head home (so I could get my son’s sled ready for the Pine Lake race).
I’ll end this report with my favorite images from this week’s trip. They’re from the Hwy 32 ditch, just outside the Arctic Cat factory, where I spied a familiar, visor-less rider doing acceleration tests.
Down the ditch he went for about a mile before turning around and accelerating back to his starting point.
When the rider pulled up next to me, it was none other than Roger Skime!
He was busy evaluating the drivetrain performance on a production 2014 ZR7000 Sno Pro. In fact, he’d made so many laps that he was actually feeling motion-sick.
But of course that didn’t stop him. After a quick handshake, Roger indicated that he had more work to do and that we would talk at greater length this coming weekend at Pine Lake.
And with that, Roger waved goodbye, hit the gas and headed down the ditch like he has done thousands of times in his career.
Winter is raging right now in Thief River Falls and throughout North America. And, like Roger, the world of Arctic Cat is moving ahead at full-throttle.
Thanks for reading.