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Les Pinz: Man of Iron

Hall of Famer and AmSnow test rider curates 50 years of snowmobiling!
AmSnow test rider Les Pinz vintage
Les Pinz
He is definitely one of the snowmobile industry’s superheroes. Most of you know him as a “Vintage Expert” and the writer of our popular “Backtracks” articles at the end of this and every issue of AmSnow. But Les Pinz is more than just an invaluable member of our crew. He’s also been a snowmobile historian for 50 years! Les has been with American Snowmobiler for 22 of those 50 years, and he’s the “go-to guy” for us and many passionate vintage fans across the country!

We are lucky enough to have “backstage passes” to Les and his huge archive of sleds. Since this is our special vintage section, we thought we’d share just a little bit about Les and his sleds. Enjoy!

A budding interest
Les is a native Minnesotan who lists his age as “experienced.” He grew up near Isle, Minn., on the southeast shore of Lake Mille Lacs. His father came home with a Polaris Little Andy in 1965, and the Pinz family fell in love with snowmobiling right there.

“We all tried riding it and had so much fun,” recounts Pinz. “We just had to keep doing it!”
AmSnow test rider Les Pinz vintage collection
As you can see from his multi-colored display, Les’ collection does not play favorites or have brand loyalties.
Les Pinz photo
So the Pinz family went all in, opening a Scorpion dealership in 1966. They also added Polaris to the dealership in 1967.

“We had to buy three sleds from Scorpion for a total of $1,841, plus $30 worth of parts, in order to open our dealership,” said Pinz. He still has that original invoice from October 1966 framed in his museum near Isle.

The dealership was more than a way for the Pinz family to make a living. They also owned a sand and gravel company that employed a number of people in the summertime. The snowmobile dealership gave the family a means of keeping those folks employed in the winter.
AmSnow test rider Les Pinz vintage 1976 Scorpion Sno Pro
One of two 1976 Scorpion Sno Pros ever made.
Les Pinz photo
AmSnow test rider Les Pinz vintage 1971 Polaris TX Racer 1968 TX 500
A 1971 Polaris TX Racer (left) and a 1968 TX 500 with a 396cc engine.
Les Pinz photo
Ever since his days of helping run the family dealership, snowmobiling has been a focal point in Les’ life. Early on, you’d find him racing cross country or oval enduro races from the Rocky Mountains to New York. Les was a World Series winner in 1971, when the race was held in New York. He was awarded the first place trophy by Miss New York (he never leaves that out of the story).

He’s been an avid member of his snowmobile club (Mille Lacs Drift Skippers) for around 40 years, where he’s held nearly every office at least once. One of his favorite jobs is running the groomer.

“I get a great feeling giving back to my community,” said Pinz. “There is nothing better than taking a groomer out on a rutted-up trail and making it super smooth so snowmobilers can enjoy. When you’re riding and you come onto a newly groomed trail, you have a hard time holding back a super smile in your helmet.”

Les holds the well-deserved distinction of being a member of the International Snowmobile Hall of Fame (2011). To this day, he accompanies the AmSnow staff on their test rides, and he’s one of the most popular “cover riders” in American Snowmobiler history.

It started with two
Through 50 years of snowmobiling, one accumulates a number of memories. Les just decided to hang on to most of them in the most literal sense, starting with a couple of 1976 Scorpion Sno Pro custom builds he raced. From there, the collection has grown to more than 100 sleds. He displays more than 80 fully restored or original snowmobiles in his museum (11,000+ square feet).

The remaining sleds are in various states of assembly. Any vintage aficionado can appreciate the time it takes to piece a sled together.
AmSnow test rider Les Pinz vintage Polaris X-3 1970s parachute
Pinz’s one-off sleds include the Polaris X-3 of the 1970s equppied with a safety parachute.
Les Pinz photo
“I don’t have a favorite brand, but I like the variety of engineering,” said Pinz. “I’d rather be called a historian than a collector. I just want to instill what [snowmobiling] was like to younger people.”

Les’ display is not just limited to complete sleds either. Touring his showroom, you’ll see vintage helmets, garments, signs and advertisements. You’ll also find an Arctic Cat bicycle and a “Grass Cat” riding lawn mower. He also has parts, molds and various engines displayed all on their own.

“I always look for the rare, unique things,” said Les. “I love engines because of how they initially came from Germany as water pump motors, and they needed to work in winter conditions.”
AmSnow test rider Les Pinz vintage collection museum engines
A history of engines surrounds the museum.
Les Pinz photo
He’s seen plenty in the way of change in his 50 years in the sport. Most notably, he says, are how today’s sleds are powered.

“What’s most impressive is the quality of the engines,” said Pinz. “Around 1970, OEMs started making snowmobile-specific engines. Material changes, different ideas, everything is so light and durable now for the HP the machines put out compared to what it was. I remember riding only 20-30 miles with parts falling off. Today’s engine-clutch combos get more power to the track with smoother reliability.”

When asked what his advice would be to today’s snowmobiler, he replied, “Don’t ever be afraid to tackle a vintage project. Seek out someone who rode that sled and can teach you about it. There’s a great personal satisfaction in riding something you fixed or restored. Plus, riding is really fun!”

We couldn’t agree more!
AmSnow test rider Les Pinz vintage
Les Pinz
Les' First Race
“My first race was 100 miles around Lake Mille Lacs on a Scorpion with about four inches of travel in the suspension, and it beat the living hell out of me!

Lake Mille Lacs holds about 5,000 fish houses each year. They were gone in March for the race, but all the plowed ice roads with 3- to 4-foot banks remained!

About one-third of the way through the race I thought, ‘I’m going to make it, but there’s no chance this sled’s going to make it!’ We stopped to re-fuel with the sled miraculously still intact, and by the time I got three-quarters through the beating, I thought, ‘This machine will make it, but I’m not!’

When we finally got to the finish line, I took first place by two seconds. I still have that trophy today.”

Les’ narrow margin of victory may have been a little more comfortable had he not stopped mid-race to answer nature’s call.

“I learned a valuable lesson that day,” he said.
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