The Snow Cat is one of my favourite vehicles. This shouldn’t surprise anyone who has read my blog posts. I grew up in northern Canada, after all, and half my childhood happened in winter. It seemed like Star Wars and GI Joe were the only toy lines that even acknowledged that snow existed. So it should also be no surprise that my favourite Star Wars movie was Empire, and that I had every Hoth rebel, the AT-AT and multiples of the Imperial Snowtrooper.
For me, Snow Job and the Polar Battle Bear were upper-echelon Joe toys. And when I spotted the Snow Cat in the Sears Wishbook, I wanted it so badly, and pestered my parents so much, that it didn’t even make it onto my Christmas list. My mom had no choice but to break down and order it before Christmas.
The Snow Cat was likely one of the largest sources of frustration for my parents, of any toy in my childhood, since I immediately started pushing for it, once I knew of its existence. And I followed that up by pestering them, every day, asking whether it had arrived, once it had been ordered. There was no such thing as patience when it came to its arrival.
In my school journal from the fall of 1985, when I was in grade three, there are two entries talking about the Snow Cat being on the way, and a third confirming for my teacher when it arrived. She was relieved, no doubt, so I could turn my attention back to journal entries about the USS Flagg and trashing the Calgary Flames (her favourite hockey team).
I have a bossy child that doesn’t always respect authority. He’s four, by the way, and his twin brother is way more chill! But every morning he wakes up at 6 am and demands Paw Patrol or The Cat in the Hat, and no matter how many times we say “no videos until 6:30”, he tries to push us every day. I sometimes think of him – jokingly, lovingly! – as my punishment for the torment my parents suffered through, when I convinced them to buy the Snow Cat before Christmas, and when I bugged my mom every day for weeks, asking, “Is it here yet? Is it here yet…?”
Growing up, our lawn was covered with snow for six months, from October to April. I dreamed about Hoth and I reveled in video games that had winter levels. I drove a snowmobile when I was 11 years old. And the Snow Cat was what I pictured driving first, legally, when I turned 16 and got my license.
The frost on the windows reminds me of my parents’ car. I can smell the Snow Cat’s fuel in the cold air, can imagine its exhaust coming out like fog, can picture Frostbite worrying about flooding the engine, and loading his pockets with bottles of gas line anti-freeze to be safe. And I’m damn sure the drawing on the box was staged on a location just south of where I grew up, in Fort Smith, NWT.
Although the Snow Cat wasn’t based on a specific vehicle that existed in real life – as far as I can tell – it was more real to me than the MMS, Dragonfly and Skystriker, toys inspired by real life.
So the Snow Cat arrived in October 1985, as Mrs. K can attest. It was the second 1985 vehicle I acquired, after the Bridgelayer, and Frostbite was the second 1985 figure I owned, after Tollbooth. (Next would be Flint, after my parents went to Edmonton on a shopping trip, just before Christmas.)
The Snow Cat didn’t ever have an equivalent vehicle on the Cobra side, during the years I played with GI Joe. It’s only snow-based opposition during my cycle was a lone snow soldier, Snow Serpent, and vehicles that were out of their element, like the Thunder Machine.
As often as not, the Snow Cat was also used outside its element, because otherwise it would have been underused, and that would have been a damn shame. That Hasbro didn’t release a winter Cobra vehicle before the Wolf in 1987 is sad. But it explains why Snow Serpent was given an anti-tank missile. Because, otherwise, how could we ever conceive of a lone Cobra agent being a real threat in a snow battle against GI Joe?
The Snow Cat is an interesting vehicle.
I saw an exhibition of old Antarctic exploration vehicles in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2011, about five days before a devastating earthquake levelled so much of the city. I can imagine some of the Snow Cat’s design might be partially inspired by early winter exploration vehicles.
The tracks are a must for snow travel, a staple of snow mobiles. But the wheels seem less believable, since tires can be ineffective off-road in the snow. The tires in the box art seem capable of good traction, but the finished, plastic tires seem to be weak, at best.
That might be my only complaint. And that’s the kind of thing that might have floated through, unchallenged by anyone that hadn’t spent half their life in snow.
The detailing on the Snow Cat is phenomenal, including the vents, the top of the missile launcher – actually, everything around the missile launcher! – the rims on the tires and the console between the driver and passenger seats. There are a ton of little pieces that add so much texture to the vehicle, including the head lights, the spot lamp on the roof, the intake pieces behind the cockpit, and the fenders above the wheel wells. And there were ingenious touches that had so infrequently been seen before on snow toys, such as the windshield wiper and the frosted glass window, the windshield clear only in the path of the wiper.
There was a tow hook, although there were never any snow trailers released, and handles for figures, like what should have been built into every vehicle that had footpegs. Interestingly, it seemed like only the winter vehicles had handles the Joe figures could use, and yet those would have been the most forgiving vehicles to fall off from.
Now, it’s almost surprising how hard it is to find a mint Snow Cat. The most frequent issue is that the missile rack has a broken bracket. But I’ve seen a lot of Snow Cat’s with broken tire axles. The tab in the windshield where the wipers rest and pivot is often broken, and there are a bunch of little pieces that frequently go missing, including the missiles, head lamps, fenders, the steering wheel, and the windshield wipers.
On the box, the vehicle is promoted as carrying 10 figures. While the foot pegs support that amount, the Snow Cat is most functional with just four figures, like on the box art. Or six, once the torpedoes have been deployed. But desperation breeds necessity, and I sometimes fit 12 or more figures by squeezing a few of them sitting and lying around the missile launcher. That skill would prove handy in high school, when I squeezed a bunch of kids in my parents’ Ford Explorer after they were left stranded at a bush party, 20 kilometres outside of Yellowknife.
The box art is cool, including a late appearance for Snow Job. But I’m not sure how Snake Eyes called “shotgun”.
Frostbite was a key figure in my GI Joe collection, being Snow Serpent’s nemesis.
The contrasting colours from his belt-up is nice. And the detailing on his upper body is strong, including the pouches on his arms, the holster on his chest, the ribbed sweater poking out of the collar, the fur on his jacket and hat, and the goggles. His waist piece and the detailing on his legs below the knees is similarly strong, but his thighs let him down. They’re smooth and plain and could have used more attention. It’s a bit of a letdown, to be honest, and it diminishes the figure somewhat.
Regardless, Frostbite remains one of the most impressive vehicle drivers, during a year that vehicle drivers were of similar quality to the carded figures.
His weapon is likewise strong: an in-scale M-16 with a giant scope.
Interestingly, I was so familiar with Grunt’s under-scale M-16 that, as a child, I felt Frostbite’s rifle was excessively large.
When I was a kid, I loved playing with the Snow Cat, but my collection was too limited to realize its full potential. Having missed out on the Hiss, Stinger and Stun, the only substantial land-based Cobra vehicle I owned was the Thunder Machine, and it arrived a year after the Snow Cat.
The fact there weren’t any snow-based Cobra vehicles on the market, until the Wolf came out two years later, was a significant oversight by Hasbro. Because by then I was ready to move on from GI Joe.
In my playtime scenarios, the Snow Cat would be the subject of sneak attacks from Cobra forces (Snow Serpent and others). It was often paired with the Bridgelayer, Armadillo, Mauler and Havoc, and they all loved driving in columns, into the TV room, ready for Cobra to ambush them. But the Snow Cat’s design also spoke to my adventuring instinct, because it was capable in any environment, so was often used as an exploration vehicle in rough or uncertain terrain.
As an adult, I started getting serious about collecting GI Joe in December 2013, with the purchase of the Headquarters Command Centre on December 21st. I wanted to start my collection slowly, in measured increments, but the Snow Cat was part of the eBay order that opened the floodgates on December 27th, along with the Vamp, Polar Battle Bear and Armadillo.
In essence, the Snow Cat is a solid toy in what was a monumental year for GI Joe. It was practically a throwaway vehicle back then, but it’s the vehicle you point at when you debate the best toy lines ever, and rank GI Joe as #1, because its quality is superb, and there are at least five other toys released that year that were even better than the Snow Cat.
Other than the Polar Battle Bear, the Snow Cat is the GI Joe vehicle that typifies my childhood experience more than any other. And if I was a billionaire it would be the vehicle I’d be demanding that someone design.
“Hey Zuckerburg,” I’d say. “Forget the jetpack. Where’s that Snow Cat I asked you for?”