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Collecting and preserving part of Polaris’ history

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When a person collects things, it’s usually something they are passionate about or have a personal connection to. This is how Les Rolsky, President of the Swan Valley Snowmobile Association, feels about his vintage snowmobile collection. 
“As a kid my dad had snowmobiles on our family farm,” explained Rolsky. “My parents bought me my first
snowmobile and it was a Yamaha Enticer 250. It was a good machine to learn how to snowmobile on. I wound up working through the summers and saving up money to buy another Yamaha.
“As a youth I was in 4-H and I was bored with all the focus being on livestock, so I asked if I could rebuild a motor in a snowmobile. They approved my request. I took a small engines course and rebuilt a motor. From that point, I started to buy snowmobiles.” The history of Polaris originated in Beausejour and in 1969 the company moved to Roseau, Minn., and decommissioned the plant in the small rural Manitoban town. At the time, the local residents made a lot of the original Polaris items, so this move had several devastating factors for the community. Much of Rolsky’s collection has ties to the community and the plant. 
“My friend’s parents were a local snowmobile dealership back home in Beausejour,” said Rolsky.
“I always wanted to have the history of the community recognized because it’s known for the Canadian Power Toboggan Championships and having the first Polaris plant where snowmobiles were made.”
“The first vintage snowmobile I bought was a 1967 Polaris Gold 130. I restored it completely with the help of my father, by taking it apart, repainting it, reupholstering the seat.
This would have to be my favourite one out of my collection. I was fortunate enough to meet a lot of good people through snowmobile collecting, so I was able to connect with a guy who could help me redo the
seat for this particular machine. 
“My second sled I bought was a 1969 Polaris Colt,” noted Rolsky. “This one came from a lady who worked at the Polaris plant in Beausejour. When I was young, my father worked with her husband and they knew I was into collecting snowmobiles. It was originally her sled and I was able to purchase it. She would ride that machine in poker derbies in the 80’s. Also from that purchase, I have original covers from the Beausejour plant that were made by her when she worked in the upholstery department.”
Rolsky has acquired some very rare and unique snowmobiles as a collector. He is very adamant to have all the tags of each machine to verify the history and value of them. “I have a very rare Polaris Playmate Racer, it’s a very small sled that was used for racing back in the day, said Rolsky. “That was a very rare  find in Beausejour and it’s valued at over $4,500 American. All my sleds have tags on them because
as a collector, if I have a sled that doesn’t have a tag on it, it’s worth nothing. Having the tag on the snowmobile helps to authenticate the history behind it. “The next one came from a family friend who had a whole bunch of sleds and he offered them to me. I bought three sleds from him and I would run them in the Swan Valley Snowmobile Vintage Rides. I took a 1968 Polaris Mustang snowmobile and drove the whole poker derby with it. It is an all-original sled with the first seat cover still on it. 
“I purchased one up in Tisdale, Saskatchewan, two years ago,” noted Rolsky. “It had been previously
owned and needs work, but it runs. It’s a 1967 Polaris Mustang, which is getting up in years to be running and looking good as a sled. I have another 1967 Polaris Mustang along with a 1980 Polaris Galaxy 440, which originally came from the Valley. 
It is in extremely good shape.” Rolsky has a sled coming up in age to be considered as a vintage  snowmobile. He has been the sole owner of this particular piece of his collection. “Another sled I have  that is coming up to become a vintage snowmobile,” added Rolsky. “I consider any sled over 25 years old to be vintage. I have been the sole owner and it hasn’t sustained any damage. With it I even have the original bill of sale and the snowmobile suits that came with it. “My latest purchase was a snowmobile from Gimli. It is a custom 1973 Polaris Colt 400 which I was able to acquire thanks to my personal
connections in the snowmobile collecting network. 
At one point Rolsky had over 27 sleds, ranging from Roloflexs, Arctic Cats, Yamahas, Motoskis and other varieties. Rolsky has been fortunate enough to participate in a snowmobile racing team. This provided
him with an opportunity to not only travel, but to see rare and vintage snow machines all over.
“I was fortunate to be part of an ice oval racing team from Winnipeg,” explained Rolsky. “When I was 18 years old, I was approached and asked if I would be interested in racing a twin tracker. I made the team and travelled across Canada and the States. That was where I got the love for racing and saw all the vintage races and collections.
Around Valcourt, Quebec, there was an amazing amount of rare snowmobiles that were out in action, because Ski-Doo was made there. “It was there, that in the back of my mind, I knew I wanted to preserve the history and Polaris collection. I couldn’t buy everything, but I had started young and
worked at it. I have nine sleds that are vintage and would like to work up to 12. I am being picky now because I don’t want a bunch of old ones just sitting around.”
Rolsky is always busy cleaning and maintaining his collection. Many of the parts he has needed for these machines, he has been able to get through his circle of contacts. 
“Before COVID-19, every August I would travel to Princeton, Minnesota, to a huge annual swap meet,” said Rolsky. “There will be about 50,000 people in attendance and it’s put on by snowmobile clubs over
there. Lots of collectors go to see what’s available. During this time, I also stop at the Polaris plant to tour the assembly line and see what is new and upcoming. 
“With the exception of this year, in September, I usually attend Hay Days, which is a big swap meet on 160 acres of land with over 100,000 people attending over the weekend. It’s big on having dealers show up with huge trailers and displaying product for sale. One can wheel and deal there and I’ve found lots of parts there.”
Rolsky sees this, as much more than a collection, it’s also a form of preserving history. He has personal ties to each piece and has an overall goal for his collection. “I am constantly working on snowmobiles,
even though this is just a hobby for me,” concluded Rolsky. “My goal is to preserve the snowmobiles and when I am 55 years old, see if I can drive them, and go back to the Polaris plant in Rosseau and show them.