Skip to main content
Original Issue


With the publication this week of the case against snowmobiles (page 28), our editors are bracing themselves for an avalanche of dear-sir-you-cur letters from snowmobile fanatics. It seems likely that a number of these darts will begin with a line to this effect: "What do you effete Easterners know about snowmobiles?" Let me hasten to say right now, therefore, that Jack Olsen, who wrote the article, is neither effete nor an Easterner. He lives atop 9,000 feet of mountain in Colorado and shovels snow out of his driveway eight months of the year. Among his hobbies are mountain climbing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling, and he yields to no man in his appreciation of the joys of the high country.

"Four years ago I acquired my first snowmobile," Olsen says, "and I went so berserk over it that I wore it out in two seasons. Then I bought a more powerful one and found that I could roam all over the mountains. It was only after I had a few mishaps that I began to wonder if I should roam all over the mountains."

Driving his snowmobile down a mountain slope at about 20 mph, Olsen came to a drift that didn't look like a drift, and at the end of a violent snap roll found that several ligaments in his knee had become undone. The result was two months of crutching and limping and complaining, not three of Olsen's favorite sports. The next year he was snowmobiling along at closer to 40 mph when one of the skis of the vehicle picked up the top strand of a hidden barbed-wire fence and sent our motorized mountaineer flying 30 feet through the air into a snowbank.

"In researching the case against snowmobiles," he says, "I learned of similar barbed-wire accidents in which people were killed. I was lucky to have landed in a snowbank. Once I hit a concealed rock while driving my 9-year-old daughter Barrie around. I was unhurt; Barrie got a beaut of a knot on her forehead. Not long afterward my pal Sheriff Charles Smith cracked several of his ribs on a snowmobile, and at that point I decided to back off and take a serious look at the snowmobile as menace. I'm glad I did. I still agree with those who think it's a marvelous sport and the machine is a marvelous invention, but I also agree with that organization up in Ontario that said snowmobiling might be the most dangerous recreational activity going."

Well, then, has Olsen quit snowmobiling? "Hell, no," he says, "any more than I've quit driving cars because thousands die on highways. But I've learned to cool it a little, and when the time comes to curtail some of the wilder-eyed snowmobilers in our mountains, I'll be on the side of the curtailers—if I live."

When last we checked, Olsen was still living, and still snowmobiling, though at a somewhat lower pitch. The life he saved may have been his own.