Evolution of The Snowmobile

The snowmobile has been the most efficient way of travelling through snow ever since its creation in 1914. Over one hundred years later it still reigns supreme.

Early Models

In 1914 Art Olsen and O. M. Erickson built a “motor-bob” using an Indian motorcycle as their base. While it did not have the tracks of a snowmobile, it is often regarded as the earliest snowmobile model. Over 40 years later in 1955, David Johnson and the Hetteen brothers built their version of a snowmobile which weighed 450 kg and could go at speeds of up to 32 km/h. They later formed the company Polaris Industries.

Modernizing The Snowmobile

In 1960 due to engines becoming lighter and smaller than ever before, the modern snowmobile was invented by Joseph-Armand Bombardier. He began to sell it under the name Ski-Doo. By the 1970s there were more than a hundred snowmobile manufacturers, many of which were motorcycle companies who wanted to branch out in the industry. Two million snow mobiles were sold from 1970-1973 with 500,000 units being sold in 1971 alone. The oil crisis of 1973 drove most of these companies into bankruptcy which crippled the industry for over two decades. In 1997 sales once again increased to 260,000 in that year but slowly tanked again due to the popularity of ATVs. Today, modern high-powered snowmobiles can reach speeds of over 200 mph which is more than ten times faster than Edgar and Allan Hetteen’s first few models.

Upgrades Through The Ages

The first snowmobiles often had very low-powered engines, often not exceeding 5 horsepower which is over one hundred times weaker than the engine of a Mustang. At the peak of engine design in the 1990s, engines became so light and small that snowmobiles were able to hold engines that could produce up to 115 horsepower which is more than twenty times more powerful than the some of the earliest models. In 2010, some snowmobile enthusiasts began to turbo-charge their snowmobiles which held engines that can produce over 150 horsepower, around ¼ the power of a Mustang which is a big leap from the original engines that could only produce less than 1/100 the power of a Mustang.

The Environmental Impact

Snowmobiles have been affecting the environment in many ways. The most significant effect it has is air pollution due to its not being diesel-compatible and having big motors. In recent years, large manufacturers have been making progress in designing more eco-friendly motors. Yamaha was one of the first manufacturers to to mass-produce four-stroke motors rather than the conventional two-stroke motors. Four-stroke motors only have a fraction of the carbon emissions that two-stroke motors do.

A major snowmobile manufacturer named Alpina now offers four-stroke snowmobiles that feature catalytic converters to further reduce carbon emissions. Four-stroke snowmobiles with catalytic converters emit 85% less pollution than carbureted two-stroke snowmobiles. Fuel-injection technology has recently been adapted to snowmobiles by Polaris which they call “Cleanfire injection” which they have equipped on their two-stroke models.

Economic Impact

Snowmobiling brings in $28 billion dollars annually in Canada and the United States alone. It is also the primary source of income for small isolated towns that are inaccessible by cars.

Snowmobile Related Deaths

Snowmobiling accidents are much more likely than conventional road accidents. There are plenty of fatal accidents related to snowmobiling every year worldwide. Ten people die while snowmobiling every year in Minnesota alone.

Snowmobiles are fun vehicles to explore the snow-covered areas with, but you always need to remember to bring your kill switch cord, wear a helmet and stay sober when operating snowmobiles or you’ll be walking on thin ice.