What Is A Snowmobile?


It doesn’t matter what the weather outside is like, you’re always thinking colder. You have a predilection for activities involving snow, such as skiing or snowboarding. One such activity you’re thinking of adding to that list is snowmobiling. Still, you need more info first. What is a snowmobile and how does it work?

A snowmobile is a vehicle that traverses ice and snow. The rear features caterpillar tracks and the front has runners that allow you to seamlessly glide through wintry conditions. You can snowmobile alone or with friends, and you may even be interested in participating in snowmobiling races.

Still curious about snowmobiles? You’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about these fascinating cold-weather vehicles. This will include more about how and when to use them, the history of snowmobiles, and which brands produce snowmobiles today. 

What Is a Snowmobile?

First, let’s take the definition from the intro and expand on it. A snowmobile, as we established, is a vehicle for riding on ice and snow. It goes by many names, among them snowmachines, snowscooters, skimobiles, motor sledges, and motor sleds.

Snowmobiles have an open design with a cockpit or seat for you to settle in. The vehicle also features handlebars, a dashboard, and a glass windshield to keep flying snow and wind out of your eyes. The caterpillar tracks at the rear of the snowmobile are constructed of a hardy Kevlar composite instead of the rubber that was once favored. 

At the start of the snowmobile’s rise to popularity, most of these vehicles were outfitted with two-stroke gasoline internal combustion engines. Those engines have since been done away with, replaced by four-stroke engines or even more powerful motors.  

For more than 25 years, the bulk of snowmobiles produced were made for two riders, but these days, it’s more common to see single-rider snowmobiles on the market.

Some parts of the world insist you have a special driver’s license before you operate a snowmobile, such as in Sweden and Norway. In other countries, such as Finland, having a driver’s license is sufficient if you want to operate a snowmobile. 

Failing to have your driver’s license on your person as well as not wearing a helmet, not registering your snowmobile, or riding in unpermitted areas could land you a fine or another penalty.

If you have an adventurous streak, why not try a snowmobile race? Every year, snowmobile enthusiasts gather to participate in or witness these events:

  • The World Championship Hill Climb at Jackson, Wyoming’s Snow King Mountain, which regularly brings in 10,000 attendees
  • Iron Dog in Alaska, which spans 2,031 miles, crossing Fairbanks, Nome, and Big Lake 
  • The World Championship Snowmobile Derby at Eagle River, Wisconsin’s Ice Oval track
  • Snocross Racing Series, which includes Malone, New York’s Northeast SnoX Challenge
  • The World Championship Watercross in Grantsburg, Wisconsin
  • The International 500 in Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan 

What Is the History of the Snowmobile?

Where do snowmobiles come from, anyway? The lineage of the snowmobile begins with Harold J. Kalenze. He got a patent for a vehicle akin to a snowmobile back in 1911. Kalenze, who was only 24 at the time, called his creation the Vehicle Propeller. The patent was based out of Brandon, Manitoba, Canada.

Four years after that patent, in 1915, a man named Ray H. Muscott took Kalenze’s Vehicle Propeller and expanded on it. Muscott, a Waters, Michigan native, called his upgrade the traineau automobile or motor sleigh. 

Muscott was the first American resident to get a patent of this nature. His motor sleigh had skis on the front and tracks in the back, much like today’s modern snowmobiles do.

From there, the earliest version of the snowmobile was officially in the United States. Ford Model Ts would be modified to become something like a snowmobile/car hybrid. US citizens at the time took the Model T’s undercarriage and added skis and tracks, making something truly interesting when they did. The name of the vehicle also changed along the way from motor sleighs to Snowflyers. 

Still, Joseph-Armand Bombardier is credited as the father of the snowmobile. He started testing his version of the vehicle in 1935. This one had ski steering, a track drive system, and a sprocket wheel. It also lacked the Model T base, a marked improvement. 

With transportation of goods across the country a growing concern of the US at the time, Bombardier tinkered with his snowmobile until it was suitable for such a job. This vehicle, made for all-terrain use, could ride in even deep snow without failing.  

Who Are the Major Snowmobile Manufacturers?

Now that you know more about snowmobiles and their history, you’re more interested in getting one of these vehicles than ever. Which brands produce snowmobiles today? Here’s an overview.

Taiga Motors

Montreal’s Taiga Motors, once known as Taiga Electric, played a big role in the history of the snowmobile. This manufacturer was the first to produce commercial electric snowmobiles. 

Today, you can find snowmobiles of three types from Taiga Motors. Their touring/utility vehicle is the Nomad, which includes a 180-horsepower engine. Other features are a powder flow package, custom terrain profiles, GPS mapping, and an HD display. The Hayes disk brake system and single ratio composite belt drivetrain are other standouts.

Taiga’s crossover is the Atlas. This streamlined snowmobile runs on 180 horsepower. It weighs 597 pounds and has double-wishbone front suspension and Rad-X multilink rear suspension. You also get the same incredible features as with the Nomad.

For a tough mountain snowmobile, Taiga’s Ekko is a great pick. This 180-horsepower vehicle is a slightly lower weight at 586 pounds. 

Polaris

You can’t talk about snowmobile brands without mentioning Polaris. This major name has five models of snowmobiles on the market as of this writing. These are the RMK, Switchback, INDY, Titan, and Voyageur.

The RMK has received accolades for its strength and low weight. Rider Balanced positioning keeps you comfy and safe on every ride. The RMK also includes PRO RMK React Suspension for smooth riding on hills and other rougher terrain.

The Switchback is effortlessly smooth. Your options are the Switchback PRO S with its awesome cornering, the Switchback Assault, or the Switchback XCR. 

Polaris’ INDY snowmobile has more than four decades of excellence. The most current lineup includes the INDY VR1 with its breathtaking acceleration, the INDY XC with optimal performance, and the INDY Adventure if you crave great handling. 

In the Titan family of Polaris snowmobiles are the Titan SP 155, the Titan XC 155, and the Titan Adventure 155. All promise reliable agility, even in deep snow.

Last but not least is the Voyageur, with the 144 and 155 models. This snowmobile is made for off-trail riding. It also includes a rear rack and hitch for increased hauling capacity. 

Yamaha

Surely, you’re familiar with Yamaha, as they also produce ATVs and motorcycles. Their snowmobiles include youth models, touring and utility, mountain riders, crossovers, and trailblazers. 

Arctic Cat

Another major name in the world of snowmobiles is Arctic Cat. They produce snowmobile models like the Blast, the Mountain Cat, and the Riot. 

Their Riot X 8000, a sleek crossover snowmobile, boasts AMS front suspension with a swaybar, a vertical steering post, and an 8000-Series engine from C-TEC2. 

The M 8000 Mountain Cat Alpha One, another Arctic Cat favorite, has the same engine for enhanced performance. The ALPHA ONE Single-Beam Rear Suspension makes riding this snowmobile like a dream. You can also customize the suspension to your liking with Fox Float QS3 shocks at the rear and front arm of the ski.

The Blast M 4000: Special Edition boasts a two-stroke 400 cc-single cylinder EFI engine. That ALPHA ONE Single-Beam Rear Suspension makes a reappearance here as well. A slimmed chassis promotes better maneuverability and handling. It’s no wonder the Blast M 4000 is beloved for its power-to-weight ratio, which has been called the best in class. 

Ski-Doo

We saved the biggest name in snowmobiles for last: Ski-Doo. You have a handful of snowmobile models to choose from in the Ski-Doo family. These are the Tundra, Skandic, Expedition, Freeride, Summit, Grand Touring, Backcountry, Renegade, and the MXZ.

The MXZ feels like riding motocross but on a snowmobile. This is mostly due to the Rotax 2-stroke engine. You’ll enjoy improved suspension, more agility, awesome handling, and tighter turns. 

If you choose the Freeride, you’re not picking wrong. This powerful snowmobile has an 850 E-TEC Turbo engine and a reduced tunnel design so even if you want to go into some deep snow, this snowmobile can handle it with aplomb.

The Backcountry is also designed for exploring the open snow with features like ski stance adjustments and cMotion rear suspension. Models include the Backcountry X-RS and the Backcountry Sport. 

How Much Do Snowmobiles Cost?

You’re itching to buy your first snowmobile, but you have no idea what to expect for the price. How much do these vehicles cost?

On the lower end, you may pay as little as $2,000 for a new snowmobile. A more accurate estimate is upwards of $10,000 and more. 

For a few examples, Polaris’ Switchback XCR costs $12,999 and the Switchback Assault 146 is $14,799. Yamaha’s 2021 Mountain Max LE 165 retails for $14,249 while their 2021 Sidewinder X-TX LE 146 is $17,399. Arctic Cat’s ZR 9000 Thundercat 2021 model costs $17,695 and their Riot 6000 is $12,895. 

Conclusion 

Snowmobiles have long since been a vehicle of choice for crossing snowy and icy paths. Today’s snowmobiles from brands like Arctic Cat, Ski-Doo, or Polaris have taken the innovation of the snowmobile’s early days and made some of the most efficient, productive, high-performing, and exciting vehicles around.

If you’re curious about whether a snowmobile is right for you, hopefully this article answered a lot of your questions! 

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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