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Such Great Gifts (Merry Christmas)

Beautiful snowmobile photo by Richard Wulk.

She watches her 9-year-old son stare out the window of the car. His eyes trace the tracks made by snowmobiles.

She doesn’t notice the snowmobile cruising along the ditch until she hears him declare its brand and model, hurriedly and full of excitement, as if he had the answer in a family game of charades.

There’s no question about her son’s accuracy of such declarations; for she’s well aware of the hours he spends each week rereading the same dozen or so snowmobile magazines. He knows these machines like other kids know baseball players.

She feels his disappointment of having to wait so long between each trip up north, during which he rides his uncle’s old machines with his brother and cousins while the grownups catch fish from beneath the lake ice.

He doesn’t understand the challenge of raising two boys by herself or of having little extra money. There’s no good reason to burden him with such matters.

She doesn’t know it yet, but these trips and his desire to ride are just prelude to the decades ahead.

It’s the winter of his 13th year. The years of pleading finally deliver their desired effect: She ignores their lack of resources, access to riding areas and other such challenges and purchases a well-used, 10-year old machine from a friend of a friend.

She also summons enough courage and trust to bring him and the sled to a town across the river, where it’s legal to ride and where there are trails for such things. She drops him off with instructions to meet back at this spot several hours later. There is no way to check on him. She holds fast to her faith that he will take care of himself.

He has no inkling of the fears or concerns that creep through her thoughts during such times. He only knows that he rides. It’s all he wants to do, it’s what consumes him.

She recognizes the love he feels for his sport. It was the same passion her late husband felt for hunting and fishing.

Another year passes. Not long after the old and tired machine coughs out its last mile – nearly leaving the young man stranded – she finds a way to buy him a brand new snowmobile. It’s a couple years old, but still new in the crate. He has never been so happy.

At 14 and 15, his rides turn longer. On weekends she still drops him off at the trailhead across the river from where they live. But now, when she picks him up in the afternoon, he recounts his journeys to places 30 miles away from this place. Whatever fears she has are softened by the fact that he’s learned these routes by himself; he’s paid for the gas with money from his job; he’s spent hours working on his machine in their garage; and that he’s always been on time when she’s picked him up.

She has no objection when, at 16, he pays several thousand dollars for a brand new machine with money he’s earned for himself. And while she doesn’t fully comprehend why he repeats this action a year later with another new machine, she appreciates his resolve and his responsibility for such matters.

He’s 20 when he buys his third new snowmobile, a machine meant for racing. She knows what comes next. If she’s afraid of him racing, she does not show it. “Be careful,” is all she asks.

Decades go by. Her son is a middle-aged man. He still dreams about snowmobiles every single day. And she smiles when he talks about his own son — her grandson — who stares out the window at the tracks in the snow.

Such great gifts we give and receive that they can last a lifetime!

Merry Christmas.



  1. How many of us that read your well written articles have an experience so close to this? Thank you John! This brings me back to 1966, so many years that have passed, finding excitement in every snowmobile track I have seen no matter where I am in the last 50 years, and missing those folks that have passed
    …. Merry Christmas Sir, Kudos!!!!

  2. Thank you for sharing John! Another well written and inspiring story! Merry Christmas to you and your family! Best wishes for the holidays!

  3. Excellent John, I wonder how many of us can see ourselves in this story with a few small revisions. I sure can.
    Another year has gone bye…
    Thank You John for yet another fine article and a sincere friendship.
    I would like to wish you and your family and all of the “ArcticInsider’s” a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

  4. If I were to read between the lines, I would say that we know the person that you are writing about! (I for sure would like to hear a little more of the details) Merry Christmas to all of you people that follow this place known as ArcticInsider.

  5. My wife doesn’t understand why I have tears in my eyes, reading Arctic Insider. She probably will never know or understand.
    Thanks John for making a 55yr old feel 10 again.

  6. As I was driving to see the folks for Christmas I was just thinking about the same thing, how I used to look at the tracks in the ditch imagining it was me making them. Way better than watching a DVD in the back seat.

    Merry Christmas!

  7. Merry Christmas to all of you, hope you are all staying warm today. -25 in Fairbanks this morning. Me and my sled are hibernating today.

  8. I’ve never quite been able to fully put into words the powerful allure that this thing we call snowmobiling has over so many of us, but the image and written words above paint a picture of at least a part of it. Thanks for sharing a part of your story John, and thanks for re-kindling a few hundred memories from my own past. Merry Christmas to all.

  9. John – this story hit me hard – I have re-read it a half a dozen times. Thinking about an 11 year old boy exploring the creek behind the yard or doing laps around the yard. Thanks for your passion for this activity and merry christmas to all.

  10. A beautiful story that brings back some powerful memories. Thanks again for the great website. I hope everyone had a great Christmas; Santa made it here to Southern Ontario, unfortunately he had to have the wheel kit installed. Hoping for a snowier forecast soon.

  11. Growing up around Winnipeg,looking at the sled tracks in the ditch especially after the I-500 or a local race—I know what i wanted to do. Thanks John for bring up so many memories…Hope everyone had a Merry Christmas.

  12. Thanks to everyone for coming to this place and reading what’s here. And thanks for the kind words.

    I’m grateful for my amazing mom, and for the people who share a passion for snowmobiling and adventure.

    Peace be to you.

  13. Wonderful story John! Thanks.
    A bit of shared history we do have not only with an 11′ F8LXR, but with family dynamics, memories and passion for the snowmobiling as well. The car window is still being highly used in our family. I took your advise and rebuilt my old 73′ FC sled for my son and he totally loves cruising around. Fits him perfect. Here’s to memorable times forwarded!

  14. Great read! Any longtime sledder understands why we do this. Of all the old sleds that have rolled through the family garages as I have moved around the Twin Tiers, there is one that sets on a high bench, waiting for me to bring her back to life. It’s a very ratty faded 1972 Cheetah. It will never be sold. Why? Because the last time I saw it run, it was sitting on my Dad’s dealership floor, new. I was 10 years old. I tried to talk Dad into letting me have a 1972 Cheetah. “That’s too fast for you son, and it’s already sold.” So I stuck with the small bore Panthers we had at the time. Time goes by and I’m in my mid 40’s. A distant cousin calls me with news of this sled. He understands I’ve been trying to find one that came out of our shop. I work crazy hours. I finally am able to go look at the sled several weeks later. We’re joking around about everything in life as we’ve not seen each other in decades. The mood flips somber the minute I see our old shop sticker next to the CC sticker on the hood. I, of course, being macho, make a cheesy excuse about my allergies kicking up from the mouse stench coming out of the half eaten seat, as I wipe my eyes with my bandana.
    I quickly compose myself and ask him “What do have to have for her?” He puts his arm around me and says: “Go get your truck and take her home.”

    The often delayed resto will start this summer.

  15. Great job John. I have been that boy in all the different chapters of the story- and got to experience the last chapter this year when I got to see the mile long smiles of 2 of our grandkids when they got their “new” 80 Jag and 76 Jag—- I swear not a dry eye in the family. This is simply the greatest sport there is- and once bitten- forever smitten. Triple Z – doug

  16. I can remember building my first kicker ramp out of rebar with my grandpa and my uncle (my dad was in jail) and then making my first foam pit out of old couch cushions we found in the dump.


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