Ski-Doo brand dominant at Cain's Quest, but rivals not intimidated

BRP snowmobiles are once again the predominant choice of competitors at the 2018 Cain's Quest snowmobile endurance race.

Yamaha, Arctic Cat and Polaris playing catch-up in race for rider loyalty at Labrador event

Veteran Cain's Quest racer Andrew Milley of Labrador City is a walking billboard for the Ski-Doo brand of snowmobile, and its parent company, BRP. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

The casual observer might not readily notice it, but there's a distinct imbalance at the Cain's Quest snowmobile race.

And it's not just the fact that the record 82 racers — 41 two-person teams — taking part in this year's gruelling event in Labrador are all men.

Just look a little closer, at the manufacturer's stamp on each machine.

Three letters keep emerging: BRP.

That's an acronym for Bombardier Recreational Products, the Quebec-based company that makes Ski-Doo snowmobiles and other recreational vehicles.

Iain Hayden of Sudbury, Ontario is a rookie at the Cain's Quest race, but is a veteran snowcross racer and no stranger to extreme snowmobile racing. He will ride a Yamaha Sidewinder. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

According to racer profiles on the Cain's Quest website, at least 49 of the racers will be competing on BRP models, most notably the Freeride.

The sled type of 10 racers is not noted in their profiles, but most of them are also riding BRP machines.

So in terms of rider preference, it's not even close.

Ski-Doo synonymous with snowmobiling

Yamaha is a distant second with 12 machines in the race, while there are eight Arctic Cats and just four entries from Polaris.

The name Ski-Doo is synonymous with snowmobiling. That's a given. But it's also the preferred brand among many snowmobilers in Labrador, where riders need a machine that's reliable, practical and tough enough to withstand the harsh Labrador winters.

But Cain's Quest is not a leisurely ride in the back-country.

It's described as one of the most extreme winter endurance races in the world, covering 3,200 kilometres of Labrador wilderness, featuring every condition and challenge imaginable.

I mean no one really makes a product for 3,000 kilometres, cross-country, in a mixture of deep snow and hard-packed ice.- Cain's Quest racer Andrew Milley

For veteran racers like Andrew Milley of Labrador City, the choice for a sled was easy.

It was BRP all the way, he said, even after competing manufacturers came calling with sweet sponsorship offers.

"Ski-Doo offers the product that's closest to what we're using it for," Milley said.

"I mean no one really makes a product for 3,000 kilometres, cross-country, in a mixture of deep snow and hard-packed ice. But with the Bombardier product, the Freeride especially, it has the surface area and the floatation.

"And the parts that are lacking you can pretty much just buy from another snowmobile in the same line-up and it bolts on. So it makes for a pretty easy and very reliable way to run this race."

That racer loyalty has also been awarded at the finish line.

Milley and his American partner Rob Gardner are the defending champs from 2016, and 2014 winners Jason Watkins and Kevin Willmott were also riding Freerides.

'I'd go head-to-head with anyone'

While Ski-Doo sleds have not won every race since Cain's Quest started in 2006, the brand has been dominant.

"We were approached by other manufacturers with some good sponsorship offers and never really spent much time considering it," said Milley.

"There was too many drawbacks, so it's BRP for us."

But this is a high octane race, attracting the most daring and adventurous competitors, so you won't find anyone riding a rival brand intimidated by the BRP influence.

"I'd go head-to-head with anyone," said Iain Hayden of Sudbury, Ontario, who is making his debut at Cain's Quest this year.

I'm going to finish with the Yamaha. It's tough to beat that Yamaha motor and quality.- Cain's Quest racer Iain Hayden

Hayden is a Canadian champion in snowcross and while he respects the reputation of BRP, he's a believer in his 2018 Yamaha Sidewinder.

"I'm going to finish with the Yamaha. It's tough to beat that Yamaha motor and quality," he said, adding that the power of a four-stroke Yamaha engine more than makes up for for the extra weight.

"I know we've got the fastest sled and it looks good too," he joked.

Cain's Quest 2018 racer Guy Styles of Stephenville will ride an Arctic Canada High Country. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

Racer Guy Styles of Stephenville wears green stripes on his jacket, the colour of Arctic Cat.

He owns a snowmobile dealership in Stephenville, and is proud to compete on his High Country sled.

"I feel that our sleds are ready, are as good as the BRP product," said Styles.

With just four sleds in the race, the Polaris brand is the hardest to find, but racer Blair Roberts of L'Anse au Loup believes that will change in the years ahead.

He's competing in his first Cain's Quest, and is riding a new Polaris model for 2018: the wide-track Titan XC.

Polaris is looking to make a push at Cain's Quest, Roberts said, and came calling with an offer to race their machine.

Blair Roberts of L'Anse au Loup will be riding a Polaris Titan in this year's Cain's Quest snowmobile race in Labrador. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

So far he's very impressed.

"I think the Polaris will stand the test," Roberts said.

The final evaluation will come on Friday, March 9, when competitors race for the finish line in Labrador West.

"I'd be lying if I said we weren't here to go for the win. I mean why do you race?" Yamaha's Iain Hayden said with a wide grin.

About the Author

Terry Roberts

CBC News

Terry Roberts is a journalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.