Quicksilver Blog

Five Snowmobile Brands You Never Knew About

By in the late 1960s, interest in snowmobiling had sky-rocketed to a level of demand and sales the pioneers of the sport couldn’t have imagined ten years earlier. It was an extremely exciting time as snowmobiling introduced a new way for people to get outdoors and enjoy the winter months with friends and family. Organized snowmobiling infrastructure emerged in the form of local clubs whose volunteer members built trail systems to connect area businesses and other attractions, opening many new opportunities for enthusiasts to enjoy winter conditions by participating in races, rallies and casual riding activities.

The boom enticed many seemingly incongruous manufacturing companies to jump into the market, including well-known brands in the motorcycle, agriculture and boating industries like Harley-Davidson, John Deere and Larson. Even mail order catalog companies like J.C. Penney and Montgomery Wards sold their own branded machines. By the early 1970s, more than 250 different snowmobile brands were competing in the market. However, most quickly faded as demand decreased, with many falling victim to bankruptcy and a saturated market. Today, there are only four remaining snowmobile manufacturers. Here are five from the height of the market you may have never heard about.

1. Brut

Snowmobile manufacturing brought business and jobs to towns and cities of all sizes including Brooten, Minnesota. With fewer than 1,000 residents, the president of the local bank partnered with a handful of talented engineers who had left larger snowmobile manufacturers, but still wanted to bring their performance ideas to market. Brutanza was started in 1971 and the first Brut snowmobiles were released in 1972. The company built nearly 1,500 snowmobiles over a three-year period before being bought out by snowmobile manufacturer Scorpion in 1974. Brut models continued to be offered under the Scorpion name, with some briefly sold under the brand name of the agricultural company Massey Ferguson. In 1978, Scorpion was bought out by Arctic Enterprises (Arctic Cat), which decided to stop building Scorpion snowmobiles in 1981.

2. Columbia

While you may be thinking of today’s popular Columbia sportswear brand based out of Oregon, this Columbia was a maker of bicycles and school furniture. In 1967, a merger with MTD, one of the world’s largest makers of outdoor power equipment, expanded Columbia’s vision of what it could produce. Knowing the MTD dealer network was hungry to get into the fast-growing snowmobile scene, Columbia went to market in 1971 with a line of snowmobiles. By 1974, the line failed to grab enough market attention alongside established players like Polaris, and MTD decided to exit the snowmobile market.

3. Roll-O-Flex

Based in Regina, Saskatchewan, Roll-O-Flex got its start as a maker of farm equipment. Seeing a chance for a cash flow stream during the winter months, the company began selling rebranded Boa Ski snowmobiles for the 1968 model year. With sales of four models doing well by 1970, Roll-O-Flex secured a $2 million grant from the Canadian government to begin production of snowmobiles of its own design. The grant was part of an employment incentive program that was contingent on Roll-O-Flex moving away from farm equipment to a snowmobile-only business model. By April of 1974, the business model had failed and Roll-O-Flex filed for bankruptcy.

4. Jet Dynamics

When the St. Cloud, Minnesota, start-up company Jet Dynamics introduced its first snowmobile to the burgeoning market in 1969, it’s safe to say the company was breaking new ground. Its Hornet model featured unusual styling and a signature green hue, but the model’s ingenious design was its greatest selling point. The Hornet was designed to be used year round by adding a wheel kit and outboard-mounted shocks that worked with both the track in winter and a set of rear wheels in summer. Like many snowmobile manufacturers of the day, fierce competition and declining market demand sealed Jet Dynamics’ fate. The 1971 Sno-Bee would be its last model sold before leaving the market.

5. Mercury Marine

In the mid-1960s, Mercury Marine founder Carl Kiekhaefer decided a small sled powered by a two-cycle engine would be an ideal way for Mercury to provide winter sales opportunities for northern boat dealers. The Mercury “Snow Vehicle” slid its way into the market in 1968, but it was slow, heavy and unstable. Customers and dealers complained, but rather than pay to ship defective models back, dealers were instructed to burn the snow vehicles and send in a photo to collect the refund. Better performing models named after classic Mercury outboards — the Rocket, Lightning and Hurricane — didn’t snowball into bigger sales, so the focus switched to snowmobile racing. In 1973, the Mercury Sno-Twister began dominating race circuits and continued winning for more than a decade after production ceased.

Pioneers Paved the Way

The success and positive economic impact of recreational snowmobiling owes a debt of gratitude to the sport’s early visionaries who set the stage for today’s modern snowmobiles and vast trail systems connecting communities, states and provinces across the North American snowbelt. Their vision continues to inspire new generations of snowmobiling enthusiasts to enjoy a wide range of winter activities from the seat of a snowmobile.