1983 Snow Job

As a young kid, I had an interest in comedy. I grew up on TV and watched a lot of sitcoms. I like to credit Seinfeld, The Simpsons, and, later, The Office, for my comedic sensibilities. But my history goes far, far back, to watching reruns of Welcome Back Kotter and Three’s Company on CBC.

I was rarely the kid telling knock-knock jokes in class, but I was always the kid sliding in a well-timed one-liner. Just like TV had trained me.

I had two staples in my repertoire when I wanted to make someone laugh, growing up. One was a dirty joke I had heard early in elementary school, long before I ever understood it, that I carried with me for five or six years, with a punchline involving a snake going into a cave. I could probably recite it word-for-word, now, if I wanted to, but the build-up is excessive and the pay-off would be marginal.

My other staple laugh-maker was related to something I really understood: toys.

“The filecard for Snow Job says he was born in Yellowknife, Yukon,” I’d say. And people would laugh.

Funny, right?

But for kids growing up in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, whose capital city was Yellowknife, it was laugh-inducing to hear that anyone would mistake the NWT for the Yukon.

Original Canadian filecard with, “Birthplace: Yellowknife, Yukon”.

When GI Joe was released in Canada in 1982, Hasbro made a concerted effort to reach out to Canadian children who might not be as interested in the strong depiction of American pride. The toys were the same as the US versions, but Joe vehicles had their USA stickers replaced by CANADA, their US flags by Canadian flags. The tagline, “A Real American Hero”, was removed from toy packaging. The flagpoints, which were underscored by an American flag, were given more neutral, red, white and blue stripes. Carded figures and boxed vehicles included both English and French wording. Filecards were abbreviated to make room for the French translations. And, most interestingly, some figures were given Canadian places of birth.

Instead of Pittsburgh, Steeler’s Canadian doppleganger was born in another steel town: Hamilton, Ontario. Two early Joes were from Quebec, Grunt and Airborne. Scarlett was from Grande Prairie, Alberta, one day’s drive south from Fort Smith. And, even closer to home, Snow Job was from my territory’s capital, Yellowknife.

Unfortunately, that feeling of pride, and my connection to Snow Job, was diminished a little when Yellowknife was incorrectly tagged as being in the next territory over: the Yukon.

My family had lived in Yellowknife for a year when I was a toddler, and would eventually move back there when I was a teenager. They’ve been in Yellowknife for 30 years, while I’ve been following my own path for most of that time, including five years living in Whitehorse, Yukon.

The difference between Whitehorse and Yellowknife, and the two territories, couldn’t be clearer to me. But the confusion that their similar names, and their northern/frontier/mining connections still cause, is also incredibly obvious. I’m often asked by friends how my trip to Whitehorse went whenever I come home from spending Christmas in Yellowknife.

The name Yellowknife is from the Dene people who lived in the area, and the colour of rock they chose to make tools from. The name Whitehorse, conversely, was derived from the Whitehorse rapids, which people had to traverse during the height of the Klondike Gold Rush. Both cities owe much of their post-colonial history to the discovery of gold, and are similarly sized today (~20,000 people). The landscape, however, is a stark contrast. Yellowknife is Canadian shield, rocky but relatively flat with sparse trees, pockmarked by lakes. But Whitehorse is surrounded by deep forests and mountains. Also, the cities themselves are very different, as Yellowknife is more centralized, with multi-story towers, whereas Whitehorse is spread out and has bylaws limiting buildings above four stories.

Interestingly, the error on Snow Job’s card was corrected. By the time the 1984 figures were available on store shelves across Canada, his place of birth was officially “Yellowknife, NWT”. But I continued to tell anyone who wanted a chuckle that his filecard had once said, “Yellowknife, Yukon”.

Neither version seems harder to find, but it’s an interesting variant for Canadian collectors. And although I grew up in the Northwest Territories, I now wonder if Whitehorse wouldn’t have been a more apt choice for his birthplace, given that his card art shows a downhill skier and Yellowknife’s lack of mountains made it a cross-country town.

Yellowknife in December. Photo credit to my wife.

Snow Job entered my childhood collection in the fall of 1983. He was one of the first ten figures I owned, at a time when their only opposition was a lone Cobra Officer. Snow Job was obviously the Joe most frequently paired with the Polar Battle Bear on solo, winter missions, however I would often use other Joes (Short Fuze, Tripwire, Torpedo) as the snowmobile’s driver because Snow Job’s skis made him useful in the snow, whereas putting him on the Battle Bear limited him to being a driver.

His skis were such a fun play feature. I was constantly putting them on at the drop of a dime. When he arrived, I had such a small army of Joes that every figure went on every mission, and everywhere those early Joes went there was at least one patch of snow. I would remove the skis and poles from his backpack, put them on Snow Job and push him across the floor. And when he emerged at the end of the snow patch he would again remove his skis and reattach them to his backpack by the foot pegs, sliding his poles back into their designated slots.

Now, the thought of putting so much gear on my Joes seems infuriating, but as a kid I loved gearing them up. I could imagine a blood-pumping, 1980s music montage featuring close-ups of accessories and appendages while getting Snow Job and other Joes suited up for battle.

Snow Job was often the key Joe in exploratory missions, or when the team got ambushed, using his skis to escape and rallying with any other Joe that had also escaped. He’d ski down my staircase, sliding on the sideboards, regrouping himself before coming up with a plan to return to action. And, often, he would have to face the Cobra Officer and/or Destro by himself, after the rest of the Joes were taken prisoner.

Snow Job had a good run as one of my favourite toys for more than a year. Then, once he finally got put away, he was almost immediately brought back into the action when I got Frostbite and the Snow Cat at the end of 1985. By then he was a shadow of his younger self, beat up and discoloured, with rusty screws and an O-ring that felt damn loose. He hadn’t lost his thumbs, which would have meant relegation to being a driver. But his loose O-ring was a precursor to the end since there was no coming back from being split in half. This wasn’t Bishop in Aliens.

Now, I know there are easy remedies for a broken O-ring, but there weren’t any obvious ones when I was a kid. The internet didn’t exist for ordering a bag of replacements, and even the possibility of looking for an O-ring at a hardware store seemed alien to grasp. Sometimes you might try to hold a figure together with a regular elastic, wrapped around the screw post a few times, but it was hard to replicate the perfect flex that a new, factory O-ring provided. So, eventually, any figure without a standard Hasbro O-ring was put to pasture.

Snow Job was a star in my early play, but when he came back into action against Snow Serpent he was just the appetizer; Frostbite was instead the main course. Now, that seems sad.

It’s so hard to see a prize fighter who is past his prime come back and strap his gloves on again.

As a 1983 figure, Snow Job was exceptional. His outfit looked warm compared to the other early figures, perfectly suited for the cold. And I should know. I grew up in minus-40.

He had nice moulded pockets and pouches. He could have used some additional colouring – more along the lines of Iceberg or Snow Serpent, or even Frostbite – but the early Joes were more about function than style. More colours meant less cover in snow missions, and I’m glad he wasn’t dolled-up in the bright colours of 1980s ski fashion.

The black of his goggles and scarf, the brown of his shoulder straps and belt, and the red of his beard created much-needed contrast.

His accessories were clearly top-notch, six pieces that went together extremely well. I’m not sure I liked any 1983 accessory better than Destro’s attaché case but Snow Job had the best overall compliment of accessories that year. He might also have been the market test that explained the abundance of accessories packaged with the 1984 figures, as I can imagine a direct correlation between the number of accessories and which figures Hasbro sold the most of in 1983.

The way Snow Job’s skis and poles attached to the backpack was cheeky and satisfying. And it was fascinating how his rifle became the standard Joe rifle used in the cartoon. I guess it made sense, given there wasn’t a real-world equivalent and it was a laser rifle, which increased the excitement via the blue/red light show and pew-pew sounds. And lasers seemed less violent (less realistic?) to regulators and parental advisory councils than Joes and Cobras firing hollow-points at each other.

Snow Job’s card art was spectacular. (Thank you, Mr. Garrido!) It reminds me of the skiing scenes in Bond films.

He also made appearances on the Polar Battle Bear and Snow Cat boxes, two of my all-time favourite vehicles.

Snow Job continued to appear on cardbacks from 1983 to 1985, while some of the other second series figures dropped off after 1984.

He was clearly popular.

I will say, unreservedly, that Airborne is my favourite GI Joe figure, however I will also admit, unreservedly, that Snow Job is a close second. His winter vocation is an important selling point for me, but his connection to the Northwest Territories, on his Canadian filecard, seals the deal. It gives him a relatability that was unmatched across the whole line. He was the closest approximation of me in GI Joe form.

As an adult, I’ve taken up Snow Job’s main hobby.

I tried skiing a few times as a kid in Fort Smith, on an outing as a Cub Scout trekking into a cabin for a winter activity day, and on the bush trails behind my childhood home. I struggled with it, so it never stuck, while my best friend, Corey, was a natural. Also, I could only be involved in so many organized activities, and my main winter sport was hockey. But, as an adult, I always planned to get into it.

I started skiing when I lived in Whitehorse, and I had a truly terrifying, but exhilarating, experience at Mount Sima in 2005. Then, years later, once I met my now-wife and moved to Vancouver Island, I explored it more, going to Mount Washington at least once in most years, and skiing outside Salt Lake City when I went into the States on business.

I wasn’t Snow Job, skiing without poles while firing a laser rifle, but I could start at the top of the hill and make it to the bottom with minimal injury.

Corrected Canadian filecard with “Yellowknife, N. W. T.”

My original Snow Job outlived most of my childhood collection, one of a small pile of figures that survived my teenage purge in a shoebox. By then, he had lost all of his accessories. So when I started collecting loose figures again in 2009, Snow Job was one of the first whose accessories I tracked down.

Later, I found his US filecard in April 2014, while looking for evidence of the funny anecdote that had followed me through elementary school.

Apparently, the US version of Snow Job was born in Vermont. And now I can imagine him sitting around like Bernie Sanders in stylish, hand-sewn mittens, looking nonplussed.

I found a few Canadian filecards later that year, verifying my recollection that Hasbro had produced both the infamous, “Yellowknife, Yukon” filecard and a corrected, “Yellowknife, NWT”, version.

Snow Job on Canadian, 20-back. This one has the incorrect, “Yellowknife, Yukon”, birthplace.

Of all my GI Joe purchases, an MOC Snow Job was one of the best. The year was 2015, and I was in the full-swing of buying back my original collection. A seller put up a Canadian carded Snow Job on an eBay auction ending on a quiet Tuesday morning.

I put an early bid that stood for a week and started worrying when no one tried to outbid me. I thought the seller would pull the listing, for sure, and started upping my own bids, to increase the bid count and perception of interest to convince the seller to leave it up to the end.

I probably bid against myself 10 times in the last hour alone. But because no one else was bidding, the highest bid remained unchanged.

When the allotted time passed, I settled my tab immediately and hoped the seller wouldn’t pull the listing after close, given I was buying a rare MOC for less than its full value.

I’m not sure I slept again for a week, waiting for the package from Calgary. I didn’t believe it was real until it arrived at my front step.

Unless I die early, I know that my collection will, one day, be just two items, an MOC Airborne and an MOC Snow Job, both Canadian 20-backs. And, in that moment, I’ll have a flawless GI Joe collection, and I’ll be eternally grateful to be so blessed. And I might even ask to be buried with those two figures.

Canadian MOC Airborne and Snow Job, 20-backs.

6 replies on “1983 Snow Job”

Very nice article! Lots of interesting information on it, the Yellowknife, Yukon goof isn’t one I’d ever heard of, I might have to see if I have that version of the Filecard.

I think Snowjob is a tremendous figure, he’s got such a good sculpt, and even though he’s fairly plain, there’s still some oomph to the figure. I think the only place that could’ve given him a little more colour, would be doing silver goggles, but that’s neither here nor there.

Don’t sell that comment short, it’s not only here but also there! I was thinking some light colours on pockets and pouches, Gung Ho blue or something… But he’d look amazing with silver shades. The coolest Joe north of Argentinian Doc.

That was a very educative and touching essay, Colin. Up until now, the only person I’d heard being from Yellowknife was the late actress Margot Kidder. I’d read articles about the place, but it’s always better to hear from someone who actually grew up there. Even as a resident of Southern California I knew better than to confuse the Yukon with the Northwest Territories, but then I’ve always been a huge geography enthusiast. Once again, excellent work. Cheers!

Thanks, Joseph! I was torn on doing a geography lesson and approaching the subject from this angle, but it was my 50th blog post so I wanted to choose a subject that was deeply personal to me. It was more a personal indulgence for hitting a little milestone. There is a ton of fascinating factoids about Yellowknife – like the amount of arsenic trioxide buried underneath the city (a byproduct from gold mining), or the reason many tourists actually come to see the Northern Lights – but thought I’d mostly just stick to the toys, and maybe write about the rest somewhere else, someday.

Snow Job was for a while. But, he fell out of favor as snow was never a huge part of my childhood. After seeing some TV movie were guys dressed like Snow Job killed some people, I made him a bad guy. (We had three of them, so it was easy to have an army.) He fought against the Joes for a while. But, in time, this ended, too.

Now, I never get to use him. (Haven’t seen snow in almost 20 years.) So, it’s tough to find a way to get him into an environment where he makes sense. But, you have to appreciate what Hasbro did with him. He has the most intricate accessories released to that time. And, he was definitely an example of Hasbro showcasing what they were capable of doing with the Joe line.

I can imagine that makes it hard to enjoy Snow Job and the other snow troopers. Where my parents live, there’s still snow on the ground in April! But here we only get snow once or twice/year and it melts quickly. I’m surprised how much I miss it. I used to find it hard to enjoy the desert troopers for the same reason as you, because I couldn’t relate to that environment. Now, since I don’t see much snow, the snow troopers take on additional significance because they remind me of home.

I can see using Snow Job as a bad guy, for sure, especially if you had three of them. And as someone recently pointed out, he was a bit of a jerk in his first comic appearance.

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