Have you ever wondered where the popular Polaris snowmobiles are made? The snowmobile tour at the original Polaris factory in Roseau, Minnesota provides a unique behind-the-scenes look at the origins and manufacturing process of these iconic American-made machines.
As the birthplace of the world’s first mass-produced snowmobile in 1954, Roseau offers an exclusive opportunity to see where Polaris snowmobiles and off-road vehicles continue to be crafted today using a mix of hand-assembly and state-of-the-art technology. Read on to learn more about touring the facility that started it all and still produces Polaris’ core snowmobile lineup.
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Brief History: How Polaris and the Roseau Factory Began
Polaris has its roots in Roseau, Minnesota where founders Edgar Hetteen, Allen Hetteen, and David Johnson set out to build a new motorized vehicle designed for use on snow. In 1954, the trio founded their company and developed a prototype for the world’s first snowmobile.
This original machine used a grain silo conveyor belt as a track with a Briggs & Stratton motor to power it. Edgar bolted skis made from an old Chevy bumper on the front to guide it. This cobbled together contraption proved the concept of a motorized “snow vehicle” was viable.
In 1956, Polaris introduced their first production model snowmobile called the “Sno Traveler” which offered utilitarian value for hunting, ice fishing, and work applications. This early version already incorporated key features like a fan-cooled engine, deep snow tracks, and enclosed cab.
Demand grew quickly as consumers realized the year-round usefulness of the snowmobile for recreation and transportation. To meet demand, Polaris opened up their dedicated snowmobile factory in Roseau in 1964 which allowed them to ramp up production capabilities.
Throughout the 1960s and 70s, the Roseau facility expanded as Polaris led innovation in the snowmobile industry with models like the 1965 Mustang, 1969 Charger, and the 1972 TX race sled. The company further diversified their powersports lineup in the 1980s and 90s with the addition of ATVs, Rangers, and Victory motorcycles.
Despite this product line expansion, Roseau remains the primary engineering and manufacturing center for Polaris snowmobiles today. The original factory has steadily grown over the decades to over 575,000 square feet while retaining its roots building snowmobiles in Minnesota just miles from the Canadian border.
Touring the Roseau Facility: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Building Snowmobiles
Visitors can take a free tour of the Roseau factory Monday through Friday (excluding holidays) at either 8am, 10am or 1pm to experience Polaris’ snowmobile assembly process from start to finish. Tours typically last around one hour.
Groups must call ahead to 800-POLARIS (765-2747) to schedule a tour time in advance. Tours are limited to 8 participants per group, and safety requirements prohibit children under age 12. Photography and video recording are prohibited within the active production areas.
On the guided walking tour, you’ll witness firsthand the step-by-step transformation from raw materials and parts into a complete, finished snowmobile ready to ride. Interactive displays explain the history and innovation that has made Polaris an industry leader.
Some tour highlights include:
- Watching technicians hand-assemble snowmobiles on the factory floor
- Learning how parts are formed through machining, stamping, and welding
- Seeing engines being assembled and drivetrains integrated into the chassis
- Observing quality control and testing procedures to ensure performance
- Visiting the on-site Polaris Experience Center displaying the full vehicle lineup
- Purchasing exclusive Polaris gear only available at the Factory Store
In addition to standard tours, Polaris offers specialty tours on select Fridays that provide VIP access to the production of limited edition and specialty snowmobiles.
Regardless of which tour option you select, you’ll leave with an insider’s perspective on snowmobile manufacturing and a deeper appreciation for the skill and care that goes into building each Polaris machine.
The Polaris Models Produced at the Roseau Factory
The Roseau facility currently produces Polaris’ core lineup of snowmobiles spanning various categories and models:
- 600 Rush
- 600 IQ
- 800 SKS
- 600 SKS
- 600 Switchback
- 800 Switchback
- 600 RMK
- 800 Assault
- 600 Carbide
Deep Snow & Mountain Models
- Matryx models like the 850 Patriot
- Rockets with 850 and 600 engines
- Pro-RMK deep snow machines
In addition to snowmobiles, Roseau also manufactures a limited number of off-road vehicles like the Diesel MRZR specialty vehicle. Across all product lines, the facility assembles around 300 units per day.
Each model and assembly line has dedicated technicians specially trained for that particular machine. This expertise ensures Polaris’ 60+ years of snowmobile manufacturing excellence continues in Roseau.
Step-by-Step Process: How Snowmobiles Are Manufactured & Assembled
Visiting the Roseau factory provides rare access into the meticulous manufacturing process Polaris uses to build their snowmobiles:
1. Design & Prototyping
- New models are first conceptualized by Polaris’ engineering and design teams leveraging the latest 3D modeling software and prototyping technology.
- Prototypes are rigourously tested in real world conditions to refine the design before production tooling is finalized.
2. Machining & Fabricating Parts
- Raw materials are formed into parts through processes like stamping, machining, and welding.
- This includes fabricating the chassis, engine components, body panels, and other snowmobile parts.
- Much of the machining and fabrication is done on-site at the Roseau facility.
3. Painting & Finishing
- Bodies and parts are painted using Polaris’ proprietary paint formulas and techniques.
- Polaris is known for its innovative use of colors, graphics, and finishes that make their models standout.
- Precise quality checks ensure flawless fit, finish, and appearance.
4. Powertrain Assembly
- Cylinders, crankshafts, pistons, clutches and other engine components are hand-assembled by technicians into complete powertrain modules.
- Extensive testing confirms engine performance and durability.
5. Snowmobile Assembly
- Approximately 10 hours of assembly time goes into each snowmobile.
- Technicians manually fit body panels, wire harnesses, gauge clusters, seats, and drivetrains onto the chassis.
- Specialty models are assembled start-to-finish by a small team of expert technicians.
6. Testing & Quality Assurance
- Each snowmobile undergoes multiple quality assurance checks during and after assembly.
- Dynometers test engine power and performance to Polaris’ strict standards.
- Snowmobiles are randomly chosen for additional testing in a -20 degree freezer.
- Final inspections certify the snowmobile is ready for shipment.
This behind-the-scenes process leverages Polaris’ decades of manufacturing expertise to handcraft exceptionally engineered snowmobiles built for any terrain and condition.
Why Minnesota: How Roseau Remains the Home of Polaris’ Snowmobile Production
While Polaris has factories in several states along with international facilities, Roseau remains the spiritual home focused exclusively on core snowmobile production. Some key reasons Roseau continues to be the center of Polaris’ snowmobile manufacturing include:
- Heritage: Roseau is where founder Edgar Hetteen first pioneered the snowmobile, so the town retains deep roots in snowmobile culture.
- Workforce: Generations of experienced snowmobile technicians and assemblers work in Roseau.
- Expertise: The facility has over 60 years of manufacturing expertise specific to building snowmobiles.
- Location: Roseau sits close to the prime snowmobiling regions of the Upper Midwest and Canadian Rockies.
- Focus: Other Polaris locations produce Off-Road Vehicles and Global Adjacent Markets, allowing Roseau to focus exclusively on snow.
While Polaris has expanded with additional factories in Osceola (WI), Monterrey (Mexico), Opole (Poland) and a new plant opening in Huntsville (NC), the Roseau facility remains the heart of their snowmobile manufacturing.
Plan Your Visit To The Birthplace Of The Snowmobile
If you’re interested in touring the legendary facility where the first snowmobile was built, here are some tips for planning your Polaris factory visit:
Tour Schedule and Booking
- Tours are offered Monday-Friday (except holidays) at 2:00 pm.
- Groups are limited to 15 people per tour. All participants must be at least 6 years old.
- Call (218) 463-4999 well in advance to schedule your preferred tour time. Tours fill up quickly.
Location and Activities
- The factory is located at Suite #2, 205 5th Ave. SW Roseau, Minnesota 56751 just off Highway 11.
- There is no charge for the tour.
- Make a full day of it by riding the nearby Polaris Trail System or visiting Roseau restaurants.
Contact Polaris to arrange your tour today and experience snowmobile manufacturing history firsthand. Bundle your factory visit with snowmobile demo rides, dining, and overnight stays in Roseau or other Northwest Minnesota towns.
The Future: How Polaris Continues To Innovate And Diversify Their Off-Road Lineup
While Polaris remains dedicated to its snowmobiling roots, the company has significantly expanded and diversified its portfolio of powersports vehicles over the decades:
Acquisitions and Innovations
- Acquired the Indian Motorcycle brand in 2011 to enter the cruiser and touring motorcycle market
- Created the category-redefining RZR sport side-by-side UTV line starting in 2007
- Produced American-made Victory motorcycles from 1998 until 2017
- Expanded ATV offerings with the Sportsman, Scrambler and Phoenix lineup
- Entered the on-road market with the 2011 introduction of the Polaris Slingshot 3-wheeled motorcycle
- Made strategic acquisitions of Transamerican Auto Parts, Kolpin, Timbersled and others to broaden their powersports lineup
Partnerships and Global Expansion
Polaris has complemented its organic growth through partnerships, acquisitions, and global expansion of its facilities footprint:
- Partnership with Bobcat to develop diesel ATVs and UTVs
- New factory in Opole, Poland manufacturing ATVs and side-by-sides for global markets
- Recent purchase of a facility in Huntsville, NC to build East Coast assembly capacity
- Additional facilities in Osceola, WI; Monterrey, MX; and Wyoming, MN
Even as Polaris expands globally, Roseau stands as the heart and soul of their snowmobile brand. Visit the legendary Minnesota factory where it all began to experience the passion and craftsmanship invested into every Polaris snowmobile produced.
Key Takeaways: Tips For Visiting The Polaris Factory In Roseau
If you take away only a few things from this guide to touring the birthplace of the snowmobile, remember these key tips:
- Schedule your free tour weekdays at 2:00 pm by calling Polaris at (218) 463-4999 well in advance.
- Walk the original production lines where snowmobiles have been hand-assembled since 1964.
- Learn about Polaris’ humble beginnings and innovations in Roseau where founder Edgar Hetteen first built a snow vehicle.
- Buy exclusive Polaris gear and apparel only available at the Factory Store after the tour.
- Witness firsthand how skilled technicians meticulously transform parts into completed snowmobiles.
- Reflect on the heritage and history of this iconic Minnesota company that invented an entirely new winter sport.
Visiting Roseau gives you an exclusive peek inside Polaris’ snowmobile manufacturing as well as a glimpse into the brand’s legacy. With your tour booked, you’ll soon be able to share stories and photos from your immersive experience at the original factory where the snowmobile was born.
Polaris has come a long way over the past 60+ years since its founders slapped together the first snowmobile from used grain silo parts in Roseau, Minnesota. Today, you can tour that same factory to see how modern Polaris snowmobiles carry on that handcrafted heritage using a mix of manual assembly and advanced technology.
The Roseau facility celebrates the company’s legacy as the inventor of the snowmobile while looking forward to continued innovation. Visitors come away with a deeper understanding of and appreciation for these iconic American-made machines.
From its humble origins cobbling together prototypes to its current position as a global powersports leader, Polaris has stayed true to its roots in Roseau. This lifelong connection to Minnesota snowmobiling shines through during a factory tour.
Book your Polaris snowmobile tour now and make the pilgrimage to where an entire winter sport began within those Roseau factory walls. Ride off into the magnificent snow-covered trails knowing these sleds were crafted by hand just down the road.