The origin of the snowmobile is not the work of any one inventor but more a process of advances in engines for the propulsion of vehicles and supporting devices over snow. It parallels the development of automobile and later aviation, often inventors using the same componants for a different use.
The Aerosan, propeller-powered and running on skis, was built in 1909-1910 by the Russian inventor Igor Sikorsky. Aerosans were used by the Soviet Red Army during the Winter War and the Second World War (There is some dispute over whether Aerosans should be considered a snowmobiles, as they are not propelled by tracks).
Adolphe Kégresse designed an original caterpillar tracks system, called the Kégresse track, while working for Tsar Nicholas II of Russia between 1906 and 1916. These used a flexible belt rather than interlocking metal segments and could be fitted to a conventional car or truck to turn it into a half-track, suitable for use over soft ground, including snow. Conventional front wheels and steering were used but the wheel could be fitted with skis as seen in the upper right image. He applied it to several cars in the Royal garage including Rolls-Royce cars and Packard trucks. Although this was not a snowmobile, it could be thought as one of the ancestor of the modern concept.
The first United States patent for a snow-vehicle using the now recognized format of rear track(s) and front skis was issued to Ray H. Muscott of Waters, MI on June 27, 1916 with U.S. Patent # 1,188,981. Many individuals later modified Ford Model Ts with the undercarriage replaced with tracks and skis following this design. They were popular for rural mail delivery for a time.
The relatively dry snow conditions of the United States Midwest suited the converted model Ts and other like vehicles but they were not suitable for operation in more humid snow areas such as Southern Quebec. This led Joseph-Armand Bombardier of the small town of Valcourt in Quebec, Canada, to invent a different caterpillar track system suitable for all kinds of snow conditions. Bombardier had already made some "metal" tracked vehicles since 1928, but his new revolutionary track traction system (a toothed wheel covered in rubber, and a rubber and cotton track that wraps around the back wheels) was his first major invention. He started production of a large, enclosed, seven-passenger snowmobile in 1937, the B-7 and introduced another enclosed twelve-passenger model, the B-12 in 1942. The B-7 had a V-8 flathead engine from Ford Motor Company. The B-12 had a flathead in line six cylinder engine from Chrysler industrial, and 2,817 units were produced until 1951. It was used in many applications, such as ambulances, Canada post vehicles, winter "school buses", forestry machines and even army vehicles in World War II. Bombardier had always dreamed of a smaller version, more like the size of a motor scooter.
Individual snowmobilesNumerous people had similar ideas. Edgar and Allen Hetteen and David Johnson of Roseau, Minnesota were among the first to build a practical snowmobile in 1955-1956, but the early machines were heavy (1000 lbs or 450 kg) and slow (20 mph or 30 km/h). Their company, Hetteen Hoist & Derrick Co., became Polaris Industries, a major snowmobile manufacturer.. It was only in 1959, when engines became lighter and smaller than before, that Bombardier invented what we know as the modern snowmobile in its open-cockpit one- or two-person form, and started selling it as the "Ski-doo". Competitors sprang up and copied and improved his design. In the 1970s there were over a hundred of snowmobile manufacturers. Modern snowmobiles can achieve speeds in excess of 120 mph [190 km/h]). Racing snowmobiles reach speeds in excess of 180 mph [288 km/h].
Snowmobiles are widely used in arctic territories for travel. However, the small population of the Arctic areas makes for a correspondingly small market. Most of the annual snowmobile production is sold for recreational purposes much further south, in those parts of North America where the snow cover is stable during the winter months. The number of snowmobiles in Europe and other parts of the world is relatively low, though they are growing rapidly in popularity.
Snowmobiles designed to perform various work tasks have been available for many years with dual tracks from such manufacturers as Aktiv (Sweden), who made the Grizzly, Ockelbo (Sweden), who made the 8000, and Bombardier who made the Alpine and later the Alpine II. Currently Alpina Snowmobiles is the only manufacturer of dual track work sleds.
An odd version of snowmobile is the Swedish Larven made by Lenko in Östersund from the 1960s until the end of the 1980s. It was a very small and basic design with just an engine in the rear and a track. The driver sat on it and steered using skiis on his feet
PerformanceSnowmobiles are capable of moving across steep hillsides without sliding downslope as the rider is putting his weight toward the uphill side. High-performance snowmobiles will beat most stock or aftermarket cars in a 0-100 km/h drag race (when the snowmobile is equipped for "asphalt drags"). Many 2007 snowmobiles will accelerate to 100mph+ in under six seconds (when set-up for ice-drags). Mountain sleds permit access in remote areas, of deep snow, which was nearly impossible a few decades ago. This is mainly due to improvements in technology.
Environmental impactThe environmental impact of snowmobiles has been the subject of much debate. Most snowmobiles are still powered by two-stroke engines, although Alpina Snowmobiles and Yamaha have been using four-strokes respectively since 2002 and 2003. In the last decade several manufacturers have been experimenting with less polluting motors, and putting most of them in production. Yamaha and Arctic-Cat were the first to mass produce four-stroke models, which are significantly less polluting than the early two-stroke machines. Alpina offers a 4-stroke EFI engine equipped with exhaust converter (catalyst) and dual oxygen-probe, which is the state of the art in the emissions control among snowmobiles. Bombardier’s Semi-Direct Injection (SDI) two stroke motors emit 60 percent less pollutants than previous carburated 2-strokes. Polaris is using a fuel-injection technology called "Cleanfire Injection" on their 2 strokes. The industry is also working on direct injected "clean two strokes" which are actually an improvement on carbureted four strokes in terms of NOX emissions. Only four-stroke snowmobiles are allowed in Yellowstone National Park since a bylaw was passed to minimize CO_2 emissions and noise.
Cornices and other kinds of jumps are sought after for aerial maneuvers. Riders are often very zealous in their search for un-tracked, prime terrain and are known to "trailblaze" or "boondock" deep into remote territory where there is absolutely no visible path to travel on. Riders will often look for large open fields of fresh snow where they can sleiter. Some riders use extensively modified snowmobiles, customized with parts such as handle bar risers, handguards, custom/lightweight hoods, windshields, and seats, running board supports, and numerous other modifications that increase power and maneuverability. Many of these customizations can now be purchased straight off the showroom floor on stock machines.
EconomicSnowmobilers in Canada and the United States spend over $28 billion on snowmobiling each year. This includes expenditures on equipment, clothing, accessories, snowmobiling vacations (lodging, fuel, and food), maintenance, etc. It is very often the only source of income for some smaller towns that rely solely on tourism during the summer and winter months, while it still has a major economic impact on larger cities and towns as well.
AccidentsLoss of control can readily cause extensive damage, injury, or death. A common accident entails a rider losing his or her grip on the machine because they do not have an adequate grip and do not realize how powerful the machine is, which often results in the now rider-less sled crashing into objects like trees.
It is also possible for a rider to cut a turn too quickly, veer off the road and flip the machine and/or head directly into a tree. Also, many cases of decapitation have occurred. Riders going too fast in an area they are unfamiliar with drive through barbwire or haywire fences at high speeds often resulting in decapitation or mutilation.
People die every year when they crash into other snowmobiles, automobiles, pedestrians, or trees or fall through ice. Around 10 people a year die in such crashes in Minnesota alone with alcohol a contributing factor in many (but not all) cases. In Saskatchewan, 16 out of 21 deaths in snowmobile collisions between 1996 and 2000 were alcohol-related.
The majority of snowmobile-related deaths in Alaska are caused by drowning. Because of the extreme cold in many parts of Alaska the rivers and lakes are frozen over for a large portion of the winter. People riding too early or late in the season run the risk of falling through unstable ice, and heavy winter clothing can make it extremely difficult to escape the frigid water. The next leading cause is avalanches, which can result from the practice of “high-marking,” or driving a snowmobile as far up a hill as it can go. The practice is extremely dangerous.
Types of snowmobile races
- The Snocross racing series are snomobile races on a motocross-like course. The races are held during the winter season in Northern United States and Canada. One of the largest in New England is the Northeast SnoX Challenge held early January of each year in Malone, New York and run by Rock Maple Racing and sponsored by the Malone Chamber of Commerce.
- The "Iron Dog", the longest snowmobiles race in the world, is held annually in Alaska. It is 1971 miles long and runs from Wasilla to Nome to Fairbanks. Todd Palin, husband of current governor Sarah Palin, has won the race four times, including 2007. The name Iron Dog is in reference to the popularity, both historically and in the present, of Dog Mushing in Alaska
- Vintage snowmobiling is the racing of vintage snowmobiles and has grown in popularity as a sporting event on the Canadian prairie.
MisnamingBombardier wanted to brand its snowmobile “ski-dog” http://archives.cbc.ca/400d.asp?id=1-73-362-1988&wm6=1, but it seems that the tail of the “g” on the artwork fell off or was misinterpreted by the advertising agency, and it was too late to change it when Bombardier discovered it. There may have been some influence from the slang phrase "23 skidoo!" via the idea of getting away.
- Descarries, Eric. "Autoneiges Bombardier: Des patenteux perpétuent la tradition". in La Presse. Monday, March 13th 2006.
- MacDonald, Larry. The Bombardier story : planes, trains, and snowmobiles. Toronto : J. Wiley, 2001.
- SLEDtv.org - Snowmobile Television - Snowmobile Statistics
snowmobiling in Arabic: زلاقة الجليد الآلية
snowmobiling in Danish: Snescooter
snowmobiling in German: Schneemobil
snowmobiling in Spanish: Motonieve
snowmobiling in French: Motoneige
snowmobiling in Indonesian: Mobil salju
snowmobiling in Italian: Motoslitta
snowmobiling in Inuktitut: ᓯᑮᑐ/sikiitu
snowmobiling in Cree: ᑳᐅᔅᑎᐦᑖᑯᓂᒋᐸᐦᑖᑦ
snowmobiling in Japanese: スノーモービル
snowmobiling in Norwegian: Snøscooter
snowmobiling in Polish: Skuter śnieżny
snowmobiling in Portuguese: Moto de neve
snowmobiling in Russian: Снегоход
snowmobiling in Simple English: Snowmobile
snowmobiling in Slovenian: Motorne sani
snowmobiling in Finnish: Moottorikelkka
snowmobiling in Swedish: Snöskoter
snowmobiling in Ukrainian: Снігохід
snowmobiling in Yiddish: שניי-מאביל