Believe it or not, the lack of timeliness of sharing this trip report has been weighing heavy on my shoulders, especially when I see comments regarding the need on my behalf to share more inside info like this.
The following is actually two trips Ive taken to the Factory this fall. After looking at my photos of both trips, everything seemed to come together for the storyline, starting with the featured image above – Here’s an inside look Why Arctic Will Survive -It’s the employees.
I worked at the Thief River factory for nearly five years before being moved to various other corporate headquarters in Minnesota. During TRF’s winter months, which usually came with extreme sub-zero temps, there was always the urge to sneak into the front row of visitor parking to minimize unsightly snotsicles acquired from the long walk from employee parking to the front door. Now, when I can legitimately park as a visitor, it seems weird.
When I opened the front door, the first person I literally ran in to, was someone I admire greatly – Greg Spaulding. If you are a long-time Arctic Cat fan, you’ll recognize Greg as an influential part of Arctic Cat’s 2-stroke engine development over the years. Greg retired a few years ago, but I was happy to hear he was back as a contract employee working on some projects.
After getting security clearance, I journeyed to marketing to meet up with Tristin Ironi as he’d be my host for the day. Tristin is no stranger, as we worked together in marketing before my departure. Ive enjoyed watching his journey since he started, and more so, Ive enjoyed watching his work.
Tristin is pretty skilled behind the lens of a camera and is living out a dream capturing cool content for Arctic Cat and their ambassadors. Both Tristin and Content Manager, Ben White, have teamed up to create some entertaining videos for the Black Cats…most recently, I really enjoyed the Black Cats video featuring Kyle Saxton.
Tristin got me hooked up with Troy Halvorson, the Director of Product Strategy for Snow. Its always great to see Troy and I enjoy getting updates on the industry and product from him. On this day, we talked about snowmobile production and the challenges the market is facing with supply chain. It was comforting to know Arctic Cat has made a promise to only ship completely built units, and those who spring ordered, will receive their snowmobile. (On a sidetone – here’s the answer to the question Ive been asked 487,298 times…Thundercat production is schedule for November!)
Next, Tristin and I visited the inner-workings of the engineering department. (One of my favorite spots) I was fortunate enough to get to talk to this trio of drivetrain knowledge led by longtime Arctic Cat employee, Kevin Thompson (L). Kevin was with Paul Eckstein (M) and Kyle Olason (R). This group works on both snow and dirt driveline R&D, and was reviewing a long term field tested ADAPT clutch. Ive spent a bit of time with Kyle, and interviewed him last spring about the new ADAPT system. Its great to know up-and-coming young guys like him have a serious passion, and knowledge, for clutching, on the same levels Ive witnessed from Kevin as long as Ive known him.
If you’re into the whole social media thing (Ive heard its popular), search out Alicia Martin 9. Alicia builds, and owns, some pretty cool stuff I think everyone here would take an interest in. (Cars, Dirtbikes and Snowmobiles…) She can also ride the hell out of them, including mountain sleds. Alicia will be moving out west as part of the mountain development team this winter.
Im convinced, one of the friendliest personalities at Arctic Cat, has to be Jeff Olson. Jeff and Alicia work in the same areas, and on some of the same development projects. Jeff has an incredible knowledge, and feel, for how a snowmobile suspension works and how to calibrate it to the conditions it will be used in.
Ive been on many test rides with Jeff, and he is a reminder, of one of many at Arctic Cat (all included in this story), who can not only ride fast, but also do so while mentally processing, and physically feeling, how a snowmobile is actually working/handling through all terrain. Meanwhile, guys like me are just hopeful to keep Jeff’s snowflap in close enough sight on a trail ride.
After hanging out in engineering, I met up with a few other Arctic Cat faces for lunch at the Black Cat Bar and Grill. The snowmobile performance and racing knowledge at the table was top notch and exciting to be a part of!
It was here I had a conversation with Lynn Berberich and Ben Langaas about some tuning/set-up tips for the new Blast models. Lynn has been a key engineering lead in the development of units like the Blast, and Ben works on the high-performance snowmobile segment, including race sleds. (You can catch Ben this winter as he’ll continue cross-country racing in the Pro class, and compete in the MIRA circuit enduro racing.)
Troy Halvorson shared some awesome stories of his dad (Kenny) who created all the fiberglass hoods for Arctic Cat starting in the 60s. His dad is still making hoods for those who want them for restorations.
And Joey Hallstrom showed up to give me continued grief about my Sasquatch-esque body hair…In return, I congratulated him on finally being able to grow the resemblance of a goatee. Im kidding. I never gave Joey that compliment, but I did enjoy hearing how he’s involved with both his kids and their cross-country racing accomplishments.
Later this week, Ill share PART II of my after lunch visit…I got to talk to some friends on the Off Road and Styling/Industrial Design part of the Factory. Thanks for reading and taking an interest in the fine folks at Arctic Cat. – Kale
Great article Kale! Painfully waiting for my 6000 RR to be delivered but will have my other sled home today to do some upgrades and service. Truly the best time of the year sans snow.
Thanks Kale , always fun to read about the factory stories and seeing some of the great people. Pulling some positives out off this story is a great feeling, looking forward for part 2
The people behind the products
Always love reading this!!!
Great to see Greg Spaulding back in the saddle again at Cat, even if it’s temporary. Maybe the powers-that-be at Textron will come to their senses and bring back Roger Skime into the fold as well.
I picked up my 22 rr 800 and it died while loading on the trailer. Hopefully not a bad sign. Bad fuel pump on 0 mile sled. Hopefully a fluke.
Time will tell. Looking forward to part 2.
“contract employee working on some projects.”….. 🙂
Doubtful but maybe an updated 600 and a larger than 800?
Love reading these articles about trips to the factory. When do the 23’s get released!!!!! LOL!!!!!
Did you talk to them about the lack of proper bar risers in the catalog ?
Hay did you run into the Black Cats up there? When will you do a story on their compound?
i’m not so sure kale. the people are part of the reason why they got into a mess in the first place. i like to think the sum of the parts are as strong as the weakest link. not a cat homer here. they make some good stuff, but they have made more bad than good before textron. textron is the savior here.
Leadership matters. Remember Irv the Liquidator? Claude Jordan? AC doesn’t have a great track record for leadership at the top and I can only hope that Textron is now all in on Arctic Cat. What identity is top leadership seeing for this brand? Is morale improving? Is the excitement there? Are the people who design and build this brand given the creative freedom and resources needed to truly compete to be the best?
Great story Kale. I sure miss my friends at AC. and at the track. Im hoping life allows me the opportunity to get back into Snowmobiling in the not too far off future, and I pray Arctic Cat will be there. When you see the design staff. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE. tell them to go back to BLACK ARCTIC CATS. The gray has run its course I believe. I hear a lot of complaints about the gray being “ugly.” Bring back some retro style options anyway when graphics were big and loud like the 95 ZR and the 98 ZRT 600. Black Purple and Team Arctic Green. A Retro style graphic ZR-RR and Thundercat would be an amazing offering.
The employees aren’t going to save Arctic Cat from textron. Nothing can.
WOW! I’m surprised those textron ba$tards let MASTER Greg into the building! They probably “escorted” him out when you weren’t around Kale. I can see it now. *in Georgia accent* “Listen here mister fancy pants, we don’t want yew ’round here! We have our OWN en-GIN-eers to make underpowered, undersized, and underfed engines ‘ere, and don’t need yer real world experience! Now GIT!” Yeah, he “RETIRED”. My @$$.
I’m STILL surprised they haven’t axed my friend Troy. They probably haven’t come up with a “reason” to “retire” him yet.
You have a nice dream there A Noni Moose, but it’ll NEVER happen. Those fools would NEVER do something like that.
Never gonna happen Jim.
I disagree mike. The ’12 turbos did indeed cause problems, but Cat was doing well before textron showed up. I STILL don’t believe Cat would’ve failed without being “bought”, for a measly 247 million dollars, by textron, and I NEVER will.
Damn right Kevin. Those guys SUCKED. But it’s no better now. If fact, it’s probably worse. I STILL believe, and WILL FOREVER, that textron “bought” Cat to kill it and make a tax deduction. GOD I hope I am mistaken, but the more I look at it, the more I agree with my belief. Are they given freedom? Yeah, about as much as communist china. “NO FREEDOM FOR YOU! You’ll design what we tell you to!”
By the way, I’m thinking of changing my screen name here to “Dave the Downer” Any thoughts anyone?
cat had many years to run, operate, and make a profit far before textron wroth the check to buy them. sadly the arctic cat top brass of yesteryear made bad choices, and made a LOT of bad product. take your blinders off and look at textron for what it is, the company that saved cat. they would be done by now. textron has to fix the problems cat couldn’t.
Cat’s board of directors, and their choices to run the company are what killed AC.
When textron bought them, Cat wasn’t paying their bills, or employee’s.
Then textron came in, fired pretty much everyone, canceled all projects, stopped development, etc.
So where is part 2 on this?
What bad product is Mike referring to? Or does Mike just parrot what other people write online? I get so very tired of hearing about how horrible Arctic Cat products are. I would estimate that 95% of people that make that comment don’t own or have ever owned an Arctic Cat. When I bought my Alterra, everyone I knew told me “Don’t buy one, they’re garbage.” Yet nobody owned one. So I bought one in 2016. I have never, ever, had a single problem with it. Not one Mike! In addition I own a 2016 and a 2017 ZR 6000 Eltigre, I have yet to have a problem with them as well! I really enjoy walking my buddies MXZX 600 with all the fancy direct fuel injection aboard my lowly 1996 ZRT 600 across the lake! Hell I can almost beat my other friend’s 850 Polaris! I’ve owned all the sled brands over the years and generally they’re all about the same: they do some things well and do other things less well and Arctic Cat is no exception. I certainly cannot speak for company morale, or whether Textron is a savior or the devil, or whether AC paid their bills at some point or not, or how good or bad their leadership was/is because I never worked for the company or any business associated with it. Nor do I know anyone that does. But I have owned a hell of a lot of their product over the years and I’d put it up against any other manufacturer’s products in a heartbeat. Their stuff works very very well!