A snowmobile (known locally as "snowmachine", "snowsled" or by the brandname "Ski-Doo") is a land vehicle that is commonly propelled by a track or tracks at the rear and steered by skis at the front. Early snowmobiles used rubber tracks, however a modern snowmobile will have a track made of a kevlar composite. They are designed to be operated on snow and ice, and require no road or trail. Most are typically powered by two-stroke gasoline/petrol internal combustion engines. Four-stroke engines are becoming more and more popular in snowmobiles. Summertime occupations for snowmobile enthusiasts can also involve drag racing on grass, asphalt strips, or even across water. People who ride them commonly are known as "snowmobilers." The three main types of riding are Snowcross/racing, trail riding, and mountain climbing.


Multi-passenger snowmobiles

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 components for a different use.

The Aerosan, propeller-powered and running on skis, was built in 1909-1910 by the Russian inventor Igor Sikorsky. [Cite web
title=The Propeller-Driven Sleigh
date=26 July 2005
] Aerosans were used by the Soviet Red Army during the Winter War and the Second World War [Cite web
title=Soviet Combat Snowmobiles
publisher=The Russian Battlefield
author=Valeri Potapov Translated by: James F. Gebhardt
] There is some dispute over whether Aerosans should be considered snowmobiles, as they are not propelled by tracks, but if they are, they would be the first snowmobiles developped. [Cite web
title=Enjoying A Snowmobile At Full
date=December 18th, 2006
quote=Not only are snowmobiles popular in the United States and Canada, Ussr has their very own version of the snowmobile, which can be seen in the aerosan. Aerosan, when interpreted, intends "aero sleigh." The Russians usage this propeller-powered snowmobile for delivering the mail, patrolling the metes, as well as for recreational intents
] [Cite web
title=Soviet Aerosan RF 8 (for 3D Studio Max)
quote=An aerosan (Russian: aerosani, literally 'aerosled') is a type of propeller-powered snowmobile, running on skis, used for communications, mail deliveries, medical aid, emergency recovery and border patrolling in northern Russia, as well as for recreation. Aerosans were used by the Soviet Red Army during the Winter War and the Second World War
publisher=Vanishing Point
] [ [ On this site, they tell you to go to Snowmobile when you search for Aerosan] ]

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 snowmobiles

Numerous people had ideas for a smaller personal snowmobile. In 1914, O.M. Erickson and Art Olsen of the P.N. Bushnell company in Aberdeen, South Dakota built an open two-seater "motor-bob" out of an Indian motorcycle modified with a cowl-cover, side by side seating, and a set of sled-runners fore and aft. While it did not have the tracks of a true snowmobile, its appearance was otherwise similar to the modern version and is one of the earliest examples of a personal motorized snow-vehicle. [ Aberdeen American News 1914-02-04] 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. [cite web|url=|title= Polaris Company history|accessdate=2007-08-11] . 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 snowmobile manufacturers. From 1970 to 1973 they sold close to two million machines, a sales summit never since equalled, with a peak of half a million in 1971. Many of the snowmobile companies were small outfits and the biggest manufacturers were often attempts by motorcycle makers and outboard motor makers to branch off in a new market. Most of these companies went bankrupt during the gasoline crisis of 1973 and succeeding recessions, or were bought up by the larger ones. Sales rebounded to 260,000 in 1997 but went down gradually afterward, influenced by warmer winters and the use during all four seasons of small one- or two-person ATVs. The snowmobile market is now divided up between the four large North American makers (BRP or Bombardier Recreational Products, Arctic Cat, Yamaha, and Polaris) and some specialized makers like the Quebec-based AD Boivin (manufacturer of the Snow Hawken Cite web
title=Snow Hawk
publisher=AD Boivin
] ) and the European Alpina Snowmobilesen Cite web
title=Industry Highs and Lows
publisher=Musée J-Armand Bombardier
] en Cite web
title=Snowmobiling Facts
publisher=International Snowmobile Manufacturers Associations
] .

Some of the higher powered modern snowmobiles can achieve speeds in excess of 120 mph [190 km/h] ). Drag racing snowmobiles can 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 feetCite web
title=Larsen Klubben


Snowmobiles 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 Fact|date=March 2008(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. Fact|date=March 2008

Cornices and other kinds of jumps are sought after for aerial maneuvers. Riders often 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. This is possible because snowmobiles ride on top of the snow and roads are not required. Snowmobile contact with buried rocks, logs and even frozen ground, however, can cause extensive damage to modern snowmobiles (or injuries to the rider) and is avoided. Riders will often look for large open fields of fresh snow where they can carve. 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 models.

=Environmental impact=

The environmental impact of snowmobiles has been the subject of much debate. Governments have been reacting slowly to noise and air pollution, partly due to lobbying from constructors and users of snowmobiles. For instance, the Canadian government has adopted in 1999 the "Canadian Environmental Protection Act", but only in January 2005 was released the set of rules governing pollution emissions for off-road vehiclesen cite web
title=Vehicle and Engine Regulations
author=Environment Canada
publisher=Gouvernment of Canada
] . Another exemple of regulation, only four-stroke snowmobiles are allowed in Yellowstone National Park since a bylaw was recently passed to minimize CO_2 emissions and noise.


Most snowmobiles are still powered by two-stroke engines, although Alpina Snowmobiles and Yamaha have been using four-strokes respectively since 2002 and 2003. However, in the last decade several manufacturers have been successful in designing 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.

Independant researchers are working on the air pollution problems too. Even undergraduate and graduate students are participating in contests to lessens the impact of snowmobile in that field. The "Clean Snow Mobile Challenge" is held yearly at Michigan Tech University regrouping the entries from universities from across United States and Canada [en cite web
title=Clean Snowmobile Challenge
publisher=Keewenaw reasearch Center
] . Some of the participants in recent years have been the École polytechnique de Montréal with a quasiturbine enginefr cite web
title=Moteur Quasiturbine
author=CHAPELIER Erwan, DE FIGUEIREDO Christian et PRADO Pascal
publisher=École polytechnique de Montréal
] and students from École de technologie supérieure of the UQAM with a less polluting two-stroke engine using E85 and direct injectionfr cite web
title=Motoneige écologique
work=Club étudiant scientifique
publisher=École de technologie supérieure de l'université du Québec
] .


Maximum noise restrictions have been enacted by law for both production snowmobiles and aftermarket components. For instance, in Quebec (Canada) noise have to be 78 decibels or less at 20 meters from a snowmobile cite web
title=Les ravages de la motoneige
work=Émission Découverte
publisher=Société Radio-Canada
] So in 2008, snowmobile produce 90% less noise than in the 1960s.en cite web
title=Snowmobiling Facts
publisher=International Snowmobile Manufacturers Associations
] . But noise has cumulative effects on users and people living near those trails that are not well researched. It is still subject to numerous complaints. [fr cite web
title=Étouffons ce bruit agressant
publisher=Comité de protection de l'environnement de Québec
] Efforts for noise reduction have generally shifted now to suppressing mechanical noise of the suspensions and tracks. Ski-doo has introduced silent track technology to some production models.

Ground and wild life

Scientific studies have shown damages to the the grounds around heavily used snowmobile paths. The snow becomes hard packed and any winter rain will flood surrounding areas. This hard snow is more thermally conductive and the ground under it will freeze deeper, possibly affecting plants and leading to erosion of soil in the spring. Effects on animal are more difficult to assess : some studies suggest that animal keep away from the paths due to the noise level, other show that some animals are using those paths for their transit when things are more quiet.


Snowmobilers 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. [ [ ISMA (International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association) - Welcome ] ]


Injuries or death while snowmobiling is rare when compared to other types or transportation like automobiles and motorcycles.fact|date=July 2008 However, Loss 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. [ [] Dead link|date=March 2008]

The majority of snowmobile-related deaths in Alaska are caused by drowning.Fact|date=April 2007 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,Fact|date=April 2007 which can result from the practice of "high-marking," or driving a snowmobile as far up a hill as it can go. The practice can be dangerous, but risks can be mitigated through education, proper training, appropriate gear and attention to published avalanche warnings.

Types of races

*Grass drags are held every summer to fall (autumn), with the largest event being Hay Days in Lino Lakes, Minnesota. Hay Days has always been the first weekend following the Labor Day Holiday.

*The World Championship Watercross or Snowmobile skipping races are held in Grantsburg, Wisconsin in July. The snowmobiles are raced on a marked course, similar to motocross courses, without the ramps and on water.

*The Snocross racing series are snowmobile 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.

*Snowmobile are used for ice racing. The racing is held on an "Ice Oval" track. The World Championship Snowmobile Derby is held each winter in Eagle River, Wisconsin.

*The "Iron Dog", the longest snowmobile race in the world, is held annually in Alaska. It is 1971 miles long and runs from Wasilla to Nome to Fairbanks. Its name refers to Dog Mushing, long popular in Alaska. Todd Palin, husband of governor Sarah Palin, won the race in 2007 - for the fourth time.

*Vintage snowmobiling is the racing of vintage snowmobiles and has grown in popularity as a sporting event on the Canadian prairie.


Bombardier wanted to brand its snowmobile "ski-dog" [] , 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.

ee also

** Alpina Snowmobiles
** Bombardier
** Polaris Industries
** Arctic Cat
** Yamaha
** Logan Machine Company
** Thiokol
** BRP Lynx
*Other related
** Aerosan
** Snow coach
** Snowmobile skipping
** Vintage snowmobiling
** Hyanide
** Larven


*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.
* - Snowmobile Television - Snowmobile Statistics

External links

* [ CBC Digital Archives - Bombardier: The Snowmobile Legacy]
* [ How Stuff Works - Snowmobiles]
* [ Environmental Impact Studies]
* [ The Canadian Council of Snowmobile Organizations]

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • snowmobile — [snō′mō bēl΄] n. [ SNOW + MOBILE] any of various motor vehicles for traveling over snow, usually with steerable runners at the front and tractor treads at the rear vi. snowmobiled, snowmobiling to travel by snowmobile snowmobiler n …   English World dictionary

  • Snowmobile —   [ snəʊməʊbaɪl; englisch snow »Schnee«] das, s/ s, Motorschlitten …   Universal-Lexikon

  • snowmobile — (n.) 1931, in reference to Admiral Byrd s expedition, from SNOW (Cf. snow) (n.) + ending from AUTOMOBILE (Cf. automobile), etc …   Etymology dictionary

  • snowmobile — ► NOUN ▪ a motor vehicle, especially one with runners or caterpillar tracks, for travelling over snow …   English terms dictionary

  • snowmobile — snowmobiler, n. /snoh meuh beel /, n., v. snowmobiled, snowmobiling. n. 1. Also called skimobile, snowcat. a motor vehicle with a revolving tread in the rear and steerable skis in the front, for traveling over snow. v.i. 2. to operate or ride in… …   Universalium

  • snowmobile — UK [ˈsnəʊməˌbiːl] / US [ˈsnoʊməˌbɪl] noun [countable] Word forms snowmobile : singular snowmobile plural snowmobiles a small vehicle used for travelling over snow and ice …   English dictionary

  • snowmobile — 1. noun A vehicle with skis at the front and rubber tracks at the rear, used for travelling over snow, sometimes as sport Syn: Skidoo, Ski Doo, snowmachine, snow machine 2 …   Wiktionary

  • snowmobile — noun Snowmobile is used before these nouns: ↑trail …   Collocations dictionary

  • snowmobile — [[t]sno͟ʊməbiːl[/t]] snowmobiles N COUNT A snowmobile is a small vehicle built to move across snow and ice …   English dictionary

  • snowmobile — [ snəʊməbi:l] noun a motor vehicle, especially one with runners or caterpillar tracks, for travelling over snow. verb [often as noun snowmobiling] travel by snowmobile …   English new terms dictionary

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