50th Anniversary of Ski Doo Exciting!
by Scott A. Sumner
It was my pleasure to attend the 50th Anniversary celebrations of the Ski Doo snowmobile the weekend of February 20 to 22nd 2009 in Valcourt, Quebec. The company first manufacture snowmobiles in 1959 and has become one of Canada’s business success stories. As an avid lifetime snowmobiler my first snowmobile at the age of 11 was a 1969
Ski Doo Olympic 12.3 which we purchased in White River Ontario for $695. The sleds and company have sure come a long way since then and the small community in the Eastern Townships was in a celebratory mood. A great high lite of the weekend for me was to actually ride a 1969 Ski Do Olympic 12.3 again just like I did regularly some 40 years earlier.
I was also able to ride a 1961 and 2009 Ski doo which easily illustrated the great strides in this little company that grew has taken.
1961 Ski Doo
Laurent Beaudoin has worked at the company since May 1, 1963. He had met his wife Claire Bombardier while they both attended the University of Sherbrooke in 1959. “ I got involved in the company and a few months later we found out my father in law, J Armand Bombardier had cancer. It was then I learned everything about a snowmobile from production to every aspect of the company. When my father in law died in the beginning of 1964, at the age of 56, I was really the managing director,” noted Laurent Beaudoin. “ In those days in 1963 we were building about 10,000 machines a year. My father in law had already started building a few hundred machines in 1959, the first year, and then we doubled every year from 1963 until the end of the 60s when we were building 200,000 machines a year. That was the peak in 1970 to 1972.”
“ Nowadays the machines are very different. First we snowmobile in different ways than we used to snowmobile. You remember in the 60’s there were no trails and you used the snowmobile to go in deep snow. Today most of the snowmobiles are used on the trails, groomed trails where speed and suspension has a lot to do whereas before the weight
was the most important part of the snowmobile. We still have those machines for of trail, but most popular machines today are those for the trail,” said Beaudoin. “ Today they are very technologically advanced with the engine and suspension. The way you ride the snowmobile is not the same way as we rode them in the 60s.I would say the machines can not compare to the old days.”
It was 5 years ago that the Bombardier company decided to separate the recreational products division and Laurent Beaudoin feels it was good decision to separate. “ The two other divisions of air and rail transportation were a lot bigger and the recreational division was a lot smaller and didn’t have the proper attention. Being seperate the focus became on the recreational product,” said Beaudoin. “ Since then we have developed the Spyder 3 wheel motorcycle product, ATVs and the Seadoo and boat line and continue to improve the products. There is still a lot to be done in terms of the technology. This is why in spite of the economic conditions, snowmobile is one of the businesses that have felt the economic conditions the least.”
Laurent Beaudoin and his wife currently live in Montreal and Nolton. He was very aware of the Bombardier Transportation plant in Thunder Bay. “ We have a good plant there. I have been there when we opened the modernized plant. We are very proud of what we are doing
Dominique Godbout is the Director- Marketing for the Ski Doo brand at BRP based in Valcourt, Quebec and started with the company in 1992. He has worked almost 10 years for the company with a 7 year break. Dominique’s background is engine technologies- engineering but he has spent all of his working life, some 30 years in marketing. “ The snowmobile market today is a wonderful opportunity. Before the last 2 years we had 5 years with less snow. The last years 2 years the snowmobiler has used a lot of old equipment that is getting beaten up. We sell a lot of parts but at some point if the snow keeps coming people will have to buy new machines. Of all the powersports industry snowmobiling is the one that does the best. It is poised for a rebound,” said Dominique Godbout. “ The economy will get better the next few months and if the snow pattern stays the same as far as I am concerned it is no where but up. We had an excellent year this year and sold out in Quebec and everywhere we had snow did well.”
Dominique Godbout Directeur Marketing Ski Doo
“ The watercraft and boating business has been affected by the availability of cash. The issue is people are having a harder time to get credit and the purchase price limits the purchase ability. That is the biggest issue. People are being careful. In snowmobile because they haven't been able to snowmobile a lot in the 7 years they are holding on to a lot of money. Now that they see the weather pattern is holding they are buying.
ATVs suffered the brunt of it. It is traditionally a younger market where credit is more necessary. It is a Canadian and United States situation. Laurentian Bank decided to get out of the power sport financing business so it left everybody high and dry in Canada. We have
had to find other finance sources. In retail financing GE Money has left the PowerSports business and has been replaced by Sheffield and US Bank for BRP Retail Financing," said Godbout. “ In the 1990s it was whether we could survive the EPA regulations and we have done that. Every one buried the 2 stroke engine but we are not going to let that happen. The young generation want to come into the sport. Our kids grew up in the sport. Today they are just as interested as in the past. The 2 stroke engine is all about power to weight. We have a design and excellence centre,
a centre in Austria where the engines are built and in Sherbrooke an Advanced Technology centre all working on improving our product offering from every aspect.”
“ Expanding the platform with new engines, fuel consumption improvement and suspensions is what we are doing. It is a journey not a destination. We have the lead and will hold onto it. Our engineers are enthusiasts and out riding snowmobiles every weekend,” said Godbout. “ The biggest challenge is to bring back the average Joe into the sport. There is no shortage of enthusiasts. We want to cater to the average Joe to make it work financially. We need everybody.”