The Economic Impact of the South Dakota Snowmobiling Industry

Benefits studied: ,
Uses studied:
Place: Statewide


This study found that snowmobiling is a popular activity in South Dakota, and is associated with substantial spending each year. One area, the Black Hills, is a destination that draws resident and non-resident users, is highly-rated by all users, and generates substantial economic impact. The East River area, although more extensive, is not a destination, has lower user satisfaction, and generates less economic impact.


Although this study’s findings are specific to South Dakota, the comparison of user satisfaction and expenditure patterns between a nationally known destination versus an area used primarily by residents may be of interest in other areas.


The study analyzes trails across South Dakota.

Trail Type

The study analyzes the effect of groomed snowmobile trails across the state, with a particular focus on the Black Hills, a 350-mile destination trail system in the western part of the state; and East River, a 1,235-mile trail system in eastern South Dakota.


The purpose of the study is to estimate the contribution snowmobiling makes to the South Dakota economy. This information may be helpful in justifying the South Dakota Snowmobile Trails Program, which is administered by the South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks Department, which funded this study.


  • Nearly all residents and non-residents find the Black Hills trails well-maintained, well-signed, and sufficiently long.
  • Roughly half of residents find the East River trails well-maintained and with readily available trail maps (non-residents were not interviewed at East River). Fifty-six percent of residents find the trails well-signed.
  • Eighty-two percent of resident respondents agree or strongly agree with a non-resident user fee for trail maintenance. Fifty-eight percent of non-residents agree or strongly agree with user fees.
  • Residents took four trips per year to the Black Hills and stayed an average of three days; non-residents took two trips per year but stayed for four days.
  • The average resident respondent owned 2.9 snowmobiles; non-residents owned 2.4.
  • Total spending by residents in the Black Hills was $13.5 million; non-residents spent $840,000. Residents spent $700,000 in the East River area.
  • The businesses surveyed across the state employ 177 full-time workers and report $58 million in annual revenue.


The author obtained data from three surveys of resident snowmobilers, non-resident snowmobilers, and snowmobile retailers. From the sample of 1,000 residents, drawn from registered snowmobile users, they received 214 surveys (23% response rate). Contact information for 482 non-resident snowmobilers was obtained by intercepting people at trailheads, 172 of whom returned surveys (37% response rate). Residents and non-residents were asked questions about number of trips to specific areas, snowmobile-related expenditures, demographics, and preferences for different characteristics of trails in specific areas. Of the 38 surveys sent to businesses surveyed, 13  were returned (34% response rate).

Data from these surveys were used as input into a regional economic model (REMI) to estimate economic impacts.


Allgrunn, M. 2012. The Economic Impact of the South Dakota Snowmobiling Industry. South Dakota University of South Dakota Beacom School of Business.