Introduction to Snowmobiling
The snowmobile, the vehicle used for snowmobiling, has several different names. Depending where you live you may hear it called a snowmachine, sled or skimobile. Regardless of what name a region calls this machine, its purpose remains the same: it is a land vehicle that a person can use to travel on the snow or ice. Snowmobiles are designed to eliminate the need for either roads or trails. Some models allow the rider to operate the vehicle in deep snow or forests, but most are used in open fields or terrains which also include lakes, paths and trails. Snowmobiles are usually designed in much the same way as motorcycles and All-terrain vehicles meaning they can accommodate the driver and possibly one other adult. They are not intended for over the road use but rather for use during the winter months on ground that is covered with snow or ice. They are not enclosed by any structure other than a windshield with an engine that supports continuous tracks in the rear of the vehicle and skis in the front so the driver can control the direction of the vehicle.
Types of Snowmobiles
The first vehicles for driving over the snow were developed in Wisconsin before the turn of the 20th century. Several methods were employed including adding runners and gripping fins to bicycles, using steam-propelled sleighs and converting Model T Fords by adding tractor treads to the rear and skis to the front. The first time one of these converted vehicles was used for racing was in 1926 near Three Lakes. During that particular snowmobile race, 104 of these vehicles were used; the title they earned at that time was “snowbuggies.”
The prototype of the modern snowmobile was first developed in 1924 by Carl Eliason of Sayner. He created this prototype by mounting a small gas-powered marine engine on a long toboggan. The driver then steered the vehicle with a pair of skis mounted under the front and a single track in the rear. Eliason patented his creation in 1926 after which he made 40 snowmobiles. After he received an order from Finland for 200 snowmobiles, he sold his patent to the FWD Company in Clintonville who ultimately made 300 for the military before they transferred the patent to a Canadian subsidiary.
The Aerosan was a propeller-powered snowmobile that ran on skis. It was built in 1909-1910 by Igor Sikorsky. These snowmobiles were used to the Winter War and World War II by the Soviet Red Army. There is some controversy over whether Aerosans are actually snowmobiles since they do not run on tracks; however, if we do place them in the category of snowmobiles, they are the first ones built.
Adolph Kegresse is responsible for designing the first caterpillar tracks system which was called, not surprisingly, the Kegresse track. He accomplished this feat while he was working for Tsar Nicholas II of Russia between 1906 and 1916. This track system relied on a flexible belt instead of the interlocking metal segments that had been used previously. This new track had the capability of being attached to a car or truck in order to create a half-track that could be used on soft ground including snow. The device was comprised of conventional front wheels and steering. It was designed to allow you to fit the wheel with skins. He applied this system to several different cards including the Rolls-Royce and Packard trucks. This device was far from being a snowmobile, but it certainly may have paved the way for the modern snowmobile concept.
Ray Muscott obtained the first United States patent for a snow-driven vehicle with a rear track and front skies. Muscott obtained his patent on June 27, 1916 after which many individuals began modifying Model T Fords by replacing the undercarriage with tracks and skis based on Muscott’s design. These devices were extremely popular for delivering mail to rural areas where snow and ice made driving conventional vehicles treacherous when roads were covered with ice or snow.
The converted Model T fords were great for travel through the dry snow conditions that existed in the Midwestern part of the United States. Unfortunately they were not suitable for areas with humid snow such as in Southern Quebec and New England. This problem created the need for another type of caterpillar track system that would be suitable for both wet and dry snow. Joseph-Armand Bombardier of Quebec, Canada had designed some metal tracked vehicles, but the invention of a track traction system that consisted of rubber covered toothed wheel with a rubber and cotton track that wrapped around the back wheels was his first major contribution.
Bombardier’s invention consisted of producing a large enclosed snowmobile that was able to seat seven people comfortably. This model was called the B-7 and first appeared on the market in 1937 and was followed by the B-12 in 1942. While the B-7 had a Ford V-8 flathead engine, the B-12 had an in line six cylinder Chrysler engine. A total of 2,817 units of the B-12 were produced between 1942 and 1951 and were used to produce many different vehicles including ambulances, Canadian mail vehicles, school buses that operated during the winter months, forestry machines. This model was even used for army vehicles during World War II.
Common Uses of Snowmobiles
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. In northern Sweden, for instance, some families now own as many as five snowmobiles.
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.
Of course, most people do not think of snowmobiles as working vehicles, and indeed that is not the only purpose they serve. Areas that suffer from substantial amounts of snowfall may use them for ordinary travel instead of using cars or even vehicles with four-wheel drive. However, it is not unusual for people to use snowmobiles for pleasure riding and racing. You may also find them at ski resorts and other places where winter sports are common occurrences.
In some areas that experience heavy snowfall you are likely to find ownership of a snowmobile as common as having a second car. Can you imagine trying to travel throughout Alaska and the Yukon area in anything else? While you could certainly travel in a sleigh with horses, you will reach your destination much faster in a snowmobile; they are faster than a sleigh and safer on snow than ordinary cars or trucks.
The performance of snowmobiles has substantially improved since they first came onto the market with the largest improvement being noted over the past 15 years or so. During their conception snowmobiles ran on engines with as little as 5 horsepower, but in the past 15 years both engine size and efficiency have grown tremendously. During the early part of the last decade of the 20th century the largest engine size for a snowmobile was 115 horsepower but during the 21st century there are many new snowmobiles that have engines sizes as powerful as 1200cc, which produce 150 horsepower. Some other models have 1000cc engines that are capable or producing 180 horsepower. Snowmobiles have the ability to move over steep hills without sliding down the hill in the event the rider changes position so his weight focuses toward the uphill side. These high-performance snowmobiles are capable of beating most stock or aftermarket cars in a drag race at 0-60 mph as long as the snowmobile is designed and equipped to handle “asphalt drags.”
Because of the way you have a maneuver a snowmobile with its speed and acceleration capabilities it is necessary for the rider to possess enough skill and strength to keep the machine under control.
The number of injuries and fatalities caused by snowmobile accidents are much higher than those people suffer in on the road motor vehicle accidents. When a rider loses control of the snow vehicle it can cause extensive damage, injury or death to himself and any passenger he may be carrying. One of the most common causes of snowmobile accidents is the driver’s lack of control of the machine because of a failure to maintain a sufficient grip. They do not have any idea how powerful the machine is and as a result it can cause the snowmobile with or without the driver to crash into inanimate objects including rocks or trees. While there are some machines that have lanyards connected to a kill switch in order to prevent these kinds of accidents, not all riders use them.
A substantial number of snow-mobile related deaths in Alaska are the result of drowning. This occurs because of the extremely cold conditions in many parts of Alaska. While the rivers and lakes are frozen solid for a substantial part of the winter, anyone riding snowmobiles early or late in the season take the chance of falling through ice that is not frozen solid enough to keep the ice from cracking from the weight of the machine and the rider. In addition, heavy winter clothing makes it very difficult for the rider or passenger to safely exit the frozen water.
• Between summer and fall of every year grass drags are held. The largest event in this category is Hay Days in Lino Lakes, Minnesota. This event has typically been the weekend after the Labor Day holiday.
• July marks the World Championship Watercross or Snowmobile skipping races in Grantsburg, Wisconsin. This consists of snowmobile racing on a marked course that is similar to the motorcross courses. The only difference is these races lack the ramps and take place on water.
• The Snocross racing series consists of conducting snowmobile races on a course similar to that of motorcross racing. These races take place during the winter season in both the Northern United States and Canada. The largest race of this type is the Northeast SnoX Challenge that takes place in New England in early January every year. It takes place in Malone, New York and is run by Rock Maple Racing. The Malone Chamber of Commerce sponsors the event.
• Snowmobiles are also used for racing on ice. These races are held on an “Ice Oval” track. Every winter participants meet in Eagle River, Wisconsin for the World Championship Snowmobile Derby.
• The longest snowmachine race in the world is the “Iron Dog.” This race is held very year in Alaska. The course is 1971 miles long and runs from Wasilla to Nome and then to Fairbanks. The name was chosen because of the popular Dog Mushing that is so popular in Alaska.
• Vintage snowmobiling involves races between vintage snowmobiles. This event is a very popular sporting event that takes place on the Canadian prairie.
• In March of every year the World Championship Hill climb competition takes place in Jackson, Wyoming at the Snow King Resort.