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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

A machine for all seasons

BY Sonny Orr Mar 29, 2022

It was a proud moment – we got our first skidoo, a second-hand Elan made by Bombardier. It was the early 1970s, and it seemed like it was Christmas already. The first snowfall swept in, and I took off with the machine. 

After a quick ride to a friend’s place, I shut it off and spent some time visiting. Visiting was a way we used to interrelate to keep conversations private. In those days sharing a common telephone line with four other households was common so whatever was said it was generally public news. Then I went out to start this new machine. After a half hour of pulling and yanking, I was told to use the choke. I wondered what that was and somehow, after diddling around with something that looked like it moved, the skidoo started. Eureka!

Today, I see these nice, quiet machines glide by and wonder if they are made any better than that trusty old two stroke. I bled my hands on that machine, as it taught me just about every bush trick to keep it running throughout the winter. Bogie wheels and springs and spark plugs became part of my vocabulary and spare parts weighed heavy in my pockets. As I tinkered my way to being some sort of gas-carburetor genius, technology changed. Direct fuel injection became the norm, and fuel filters and mixed gas became a way of the mechanical past. Today, it’s all about injection and keeping your machine cool enough to operate.

I see many machines that were made for deep mountain snow, but nothing really for hard-packed snow and ice. The radiator-cooled engine replaced air-cooling. The large cooling fins are now smaller and covered with something that looks hard to take off and maintain. Upon turning on the ignition and starter, you have to make sure that you have a good battery as quite often the good old pull start is optional. When it doesn’t start because the computer tells you to change the oil or else, you can’t move until the task is done and the computer reset. Back in the day, simply taking off your hood would keep your operating temperature low enough without melting the piston rings.

As far as technology goes, the more tech on a machine, the further away you are from a certified mechanic, multiplied by the number of days spent in a garage for maintenance and the actual number of days on the trail zipping along at highways speeds equals an awful lot of time and money. Today, with gas prices reaching record levels and mechanics becoming scarcer and in high demand, it pays to start thinking of smaller bore engines and slowing down so that fuel is sipped and not gulped down at hundreds of dollars per day of riding. Heck that’s about the same as rent. So, the snowmobile has a great following, and it shows that we do have time on our hands to get out on the land. But sometimes I think that the snowmobile needs to be a year-round machine, without having to buy another one for the snowless seasons.

But hey, snowmobiles are a way of life around here – it’s just getting a little expensive for people to use them for hobbies. It’s back to utility work and plowing through deep slush this coming spring. Stay safe and wear helmets! Enjoy what’s left of winter.

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Sonny Orr is Cree from Chisasibi, and has been a columnist for the Nation for over 20 years. He regularly pens Rez Notes from the cozy social club in Whapmagoostui where he resides.