Okanagan Sports Hall
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Museum Hours
10:00 am - 4:30 pm
Tuesday to Saturday
Archives Hours
10:00 am - 4:30pm
Tuesday to Friday
(limited access on Sat.)
Address
3009 - 32nd Avenue
Vernon, BC
Canada
V1T 2L8
Tel: 250-542-3142

SNOWMOBILES COME
TO THE OKANAGAN

Compiled and written by Ron Candy, Director/Curator
Greater Vernon Museum & Archives

The first Ski-Doo model snowmobile, designed and marketed in the winter of 1959-1960 by Bombardier of Valcourt, Quebec, was equipped with wood skis and a helical spring suspension.  It had an all-rubber track and a centrifugal clutch made of only six moving parts. Driven by a four-stroke Kohler engine, its maximum speed was 40 kilometres per hour.

The light-weight Ski-Doo was immediately welcomed by missionaries, trappers, prospectors, surveyors, and other people who needed to travel over snow in isolated regions.  But the little $900.00 machine also found a keen new clientele among sports and outdoor recreation lovers; people who eventually become the reason for the snowmobile's immense popularity in the years to come.

After a modest start, demand for the Ski-Doo increased from year to year as promotion and the sales network expanded.  In 1959-60, 225 units were produced; 250 in 1960-61, 1,200 in 1961-62, 2,500 in 1962-63 and 8,352 in 1963-64.

While the Ski-Doo made its appearance in 1959, other companies manufacturing snowmobiles emerged in Canada and the United States.  Naturally, snowmobiling caught on quickly in both countries and the Okanagan region was no exception.

The first snowmobile to be offered for sale in the North Okanagan occurred in the fall of 1963 when Jack Passmore, the manager at Seymour Equipment in Vernon, brought in a cumbersome workhorse known as the Hus-Ski Snow Traveller.  Made in Point-Claire, Quebec, the Hus-Ski was heavy, slow and appealed mostly to hunters and farmers.  At this same time, a small company, Snowmobile Sales, operating out of Creston, B.C. placed an ad in the Vernon News on October 31st 1963 promoting Bombardier’s new light-weight Ski-Doo models.

It isn’t known if the Creston company made any sales in Vernon, but their ad, which appeared only once, most likely made some heads turn.  Next season, Seymour Equipment brought in the Snow-Cruiser.  The “Cruiser” was made by the Outboard Marine Corporation (OMC) of Peterborough, Ontario.  It was much lighter and faster than the Hus-Ski and its appearance only served to heighten the snowmobile craze that was developing in the area.

Jack Passmore soon realized that one of the more popular snowmobiles on the market was, indeed, the Ski-Doo.  He also realized there was money to be made through their sales.  So, in 1964 Passmore contacted the Bombardier factory directly and entered lengthy negotiations for the exclusive distributorship for Ski-Doo in British Columbia.  The deal with Bombardier meant that Seymour Equipment could be set-up as a dealership but a separate company would need to be created to handle the distribution of the machines.  The following year, Alpine Distributors Ltd. was established in Vernon with Jack Passmore as General Sales Manager and Eldon Seymour as President.

Their first shipment of 1966 model Ski Doo snowmobiles from Bombardier arrived in Vernon late in the summer of  1965 just in time for the fall sales season.  Six machines from the shipment were sold to Tommy Barton (Barton and Corbett Office Supplies) who immediately set up Vernon Ski-Doo Rentals on 28th Avenue. 

October and November sales of the Ski-Doo were brisk at Seymour Equipment with a number of ads illustrating the Alpine and Olympique models appearing in the Vernon News.  The base price for a brand new Ski-Doo at the time was $825.00.

Snowmobiling was still a relatively new sport when the first organized snowmobile races in the North Okanagan took place on February 6, 1966.

An estimated 4,000 thousand people turned out to watch men and women compete in several races held at Kin Race Track.  Some of the entries included… Women’s Teams: City Slippers (City Hall staff), Hospital Hellions (three laboratory technicians and one nurse), Hydro Snowcats (district office staff) and Olga’s “Frantic Four” (hairdressers).  Men’s teams: Howrie’s Speeders, Kinsmen Club Screw Balls and Galbraith’s Ski-Don’ts.

Shortly after the races, six Ski-Doos and riders traveled sixty miles in search of a cross-country route for the B.C. Snowmobile Championships to be held in Vernon in 1967.  After ten hours on the trail, the only mishap was a broken ski on a machine driven by Jack Passmore. 
      
In December of 1966, twenty-five Ski-Doos left Vernon in a 40-foot semi-trailer destined for dealerships in Kamloops and Prince George.  Since Alpine Distributors opened their doors in the fall of 1965, a total of fifteen freight cars containing some 700 Ski-Doos had gone through their warehouse in Vernon to dealerships throughout the province.

In 1966, according to a Canada-wide survey, snowmobiles were listed as third on a person’s Christmas wish list.

LET THE RACING BEGIN

On February 4th and 5th 1967, the first annual B.C. Snowmobile Championships were held in Vernon during Winter Carnival.  Over 70 contestants, both men and women, from many parts of Canada and the United States, took part.  It was the first full-scale meet for snowmobiles to be held in Western Canada.

There were five events planned in each of four classes of machine (based on engine size) including a 40-mile cross country race and a “powder-puff event for the ladies.”

However, the event was not without weather woes.  Mild weather and rain turned fields of snow to mud.

The race committee had five alternate sites for the meet, and all were thawing quickly.  Two nights before the event, organizers scoured the countryside till 3:00 a.m. looking for a location that would have snow and be accessible for spectators.  The site finally chosen was a field four miles out of town off Kedleston Road owned by Jack Mendenhall.  Volunteers then had less than 24-hours to “move the event.”

The Department of Highways provided men and equipment to prepare access roads to the site while R.E. Postill & Sons provided road equipment to pack down snow and create a parking area for 2,000 spectator vehicles.  Sonny Hall’s sand and gravel company provided dump trucks and gravel for the access roads.

Volunteers and their equipment had to stop work at 2:30 a.m. as frost was coming out of the ground and the earth was becoming soft.  The idea of allowing hundreds of spectator vehicles to the site was abandoned and a shuttle service was quickly organized by Biggs’ Bus Lines.  A few days after the event, on February 9th, the Vernon News reported…
The show had to go on, as competitors from various Pacific Northwest centres were converging on Vernon for the championships.”   

The Vernon News also reported…  
“Looking back on the five hectic days, Mr. Passmore said the response from Vernon and district citizens to pleas of help, and from everyone contacted was overwhelming.  ‘No effort appeared to be too much,’ he said, ‘Many of the men said they would never work that hard for money, and many commented: If you hired me for this job, I’d quit!’”.
 
Undaunted, plans for the 1968 B.C. Snowmobile Championships to be held in the Vernon area were underway almost immediately after the ’67 event.

 

SNOWMOBILE CLUB FORMED

On March 23, 1967 the Vernon News reported…

“Between 35 and 40 people attended an organizational meeting held last week in Vernon for a Snowmobile Club.

Bruce Georgeson was elected president, Ray Redstone vice-president, Arthur Abram secretary and Jack Turdoff treasurer.  Directors are Norman Sasges, R. (Dick) Kimball, Jack E. Passmore, Don Stinn, Peter Genier, all of Vernon; and Reay O’Rourke of Lumby.  Mr. Kimball is president of the B.C. Snow Vehicle Association and Mr. Passmore is a director of the provincial body.

The name of the new club will be the Vernon Snowmobile Association.  Its aim will be to promote bigger and better B.C. Snowmobile Championship races for next year, orhanize trail rides throughout the year, and to promote better fellowship.”

The Vernon club went to work in August of 1967 to construct an A-frame style chalet on Silver Star Mountain.  Situated at the 6,000 foot level of Silver Star Mountain, members of the club erected the 46’ x 34’ two-story A-frame in less than two months.  Labour for construction was entirely by volunteers with most of the building materials donated by merchants in the Vernon area.  Other costs were covered through the sale of $10.00 charter memberships to the Association.  The chalet proved to be the first “public” facility of its kind in North America for use by snowmobile enthusiasts.  B.C.’s labour minister, L.R. Peterson, and North Okanagan MLA, Pat Jordan, officially opened the chalet in February 1968.

SNOWMOBILERS TOUR ACROSS
THE COUNTRY

On January 14th 1984, Bill Shields, Doug and Jean Frizzell, and Bill Udy from Vernon, along with Bob Sturgeon of Salmon Arm and Jack Fisher of Nelson, embarked on a cross-country snowmobile trek that took them from B.C. to Quebec.

Their 5,000 km journey ended at Valcourt, Quebec and the International Snowmobile Festival.  The team received enthusiastic support from members of snowmobile clubs all along the route.  Team leader, Bill Shields, said at the time, “Local guides have ridden with us for more than half the distance we traveled and laid out safe routes for us to follow until we reached the area of the next club.”

The latter part of the trip followed old voyageur trade routes, including the crossing of the ice covered Lake Nipissing.  The team made the 76 km crossing in white-out conditions and had to rely entirely on compass bearings during seven of the toughest hours they encountered on the 3-week trip.

The festival in Valcourt was also in celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the Ski-Doo snowmobile.

ONE MILLION SKI-DOOS

In August of 1973, the one millionth Ski-Doo rolled off the assembly lines at the Bombardier plant in Valcourt.  For Vernon, this was an auspicious occasion. 

Management and staff at Alpine Distributors, along with local dealers and snowmobile racing champions, gathered at a reception at Alpine, sipped champagne and, along with over a dozen distributorships across Canada and the U.S. listened in on a telephone conference from Valcourt.  At Alpine, the call was amplified through a public address system and those present heard federal politicians and Bombardier president, Laurent Beaudoin, toast the production of the millionth Ski-Doo.

A stretched track 1974 T’NT Everest model, the one millionth, was presented to Mrs. Yvonne Bombardier, widow of the inventor, Joseph-Armand Bombardier, for display in the J.A. Bombardier Museum in Valcourt.  The one millionth and one machine was presented to the National Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa.  The one millionth and two machine was set aside for Bombardier president, Laurent Beaudoin, and the one millionth and third machine was sent out to Alpine Distributors in Vernon.           

Alpine Distributors received this historic Ski-Doo Everest model because the employees at Alpine actually assisted Bombardier in its original concept and design.

A prototype Everest was tested on Silver Star Mountain and on Hunter’s Range above Enderby.  Because the Everest was designed to climb in powder and scale backcountry terrain, it was outfitted with a wide 16.5-inch track that provided 907.5 square inches of flotation. You might call the original Everest the snowmobile industry’s first crossover sled.

The chassis and track measured five inches longer than the standard T’NT models.  The Everest track was not just wider, but replaced the traditional steel reinforcing rods with lighter, more flexible fiberglass rods.  Steel was replaced with aluminum for the tunnel, though there was a steel reinforced bulkhead to hold the engine and ski mounts.

The 1974 Ski-Doo T’NT Everest was long at nearly 107 inches in overall length with a narrow (by today’s standard) 28-inch center-to-center ski stance.  Those dimensions, combined with the Everest’s above average flotation and the power-train’s strong low-end performance, made this Ski-Doo a very strong deep snow performer.

So, where did the 1974 T’NT Everest model which was sent to Vernon’s Alpine Distributors in 1973 end up?

We don’t know for sure. But, we are looking for it.