ROSEAU (AP) -- Deric Erickson gets a lot of fresh air during his morning commute to work.
By the time he arrives at the Polaris snowmobile factory, Erickson has driven 55 miles on his snowmobile, usually riding in road ditches or local trails. His winter commute, done long before the sun comes up, takes an hour. He arrives in the shop around 6:30 a.m.
If you live in or around Roseau, you do a lot of things by snowmobile. Roseau is, after all, the home base for Polaris, the nation's No. 1 snowmobile manufacturer and where the sport was founded in 1954. Snowmobiling is a function of living in Roseau. It's how you might get to the store for a gallon of milk, visit a neighbor or spend the weekend with the kids.
But for Erickson, 27, snowmobiling isn't just a way of life. It's his job. He's a test driver for Polaris, and his morning commute is only the beginning of his snowmobiling day. He typically rides 200 or 300 miles more during the day, skimming across a vast network of rural trails maintained by local trail clubs in northwestern Minnesota.
For snowmobile lovers, Erickson and the 23 other test drivers working for Polaris may have the world's greatest job, though skills other than pushing the throttle are necessary.
"You have to have high mechanical ability and a high desire to ride snowmobiles," said Kent Sikorski, a test driver for six years. "And a good back."
On the glamorous side, test drivers get to ride the countryside on the company's newest and fastest sleds (machines the public won't see for a year or two), spend their days in sleek, leather riding suits with flashy helmets (all provided by Polaris) and travel to Alaska, Wyoming and British Columbia in the early winter and late spring when Roseau is devoid of snow.
"If we have to test something in July, we'll find snow," said Brian Walton, who oversees the company's field-testing program. "We've been on top of glaciers in British Columbia and some of our guys have been to Australia."
On the downside, test drivers ride in all conditions -- rain, sleet and 40-below temperatures. Daily riding can become tedious and monotonous, not to mention tough on the body, though most riders are in their 20s or early 30s.
"Your body gets used to it," said Sikorski, who is 6 feet 5 and 200-plus pounds. "But even at my age (29), the company wants me to start looking into development jobs. After so many years, it takes a toll."
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