Why Are Snowmobiles Called Sleds?


You’re about to take a ride on your snowmobile, or is it your sled? That’s the word some of your snowmobiling buddies like to use. You’ve heard that term thrown around a lot, sometimes online on snowmobiling message boards. Why are snowmobiles referred to as sleds?

Snowmobiles are more than likely called sleds because snowmobilers began describing themselves as sledders in the 1980s. Also, other terms for snowmobiles include motor sled, so the term “sled” may be a shorthand of this.

If you’re curious to learn even more about the history of snowmobile vernacular, then you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’ll delve into the background of the snowmobile and its many nicknames. We’ll even share a few other slang terms for snowmobiling that are good to know!  

Why Are Snowmobiles Called Sleds? The History of the Term

If you remember from our introductory post on snowmobiles, one of the first versions of the snowmobile was created in Canada by a young man named Harold J. Kalenze back in 1911. Now, this wasn’t a snowmobile proper, far from it. Kalenze called it a vehicle propeller.

A decade later, the Ford Model T snowmobile came into existence. It wasn’t until 1935 that Joseph Bombardier, considered the true inventor of the snowmobile, made what would become the blueprint for snowmobiles going forward.

Where does the sled name come from then? Well, in the way, way early days, even before Harold J. Kalenze got the ball rolling for snowmobiles, all sorts of snow vehicles were being assembled in Wisconsin. In 1895, William B. Follis and William J. Culman debuted a patent model of what they called a Sled-Propeller. That had sled in the name. 

In 1905, a snowmobile-like creation out of Boston, Massachusetts was known as the American Motor Sleigh. This is sort of like a sled, at least regarding the name. 

Over in South Dakota, Art Olsen and O.M. Erickson made a personal snowmobile with sled-runners and parts of an Indian motorcycle. This happened in 1914. Again, the sled name being associated with snowmobiles is long-running. 

Much more recently, in the 1980s, the word sled became popular vernacular among snowmobilers as a nickname for their vehicle. It was also this decade that snowmobiling got a cool new nickname as well: sledding or, to be ultra-cool, sleddin’. 

Is There a Difference Between a Snowmobile or Sled?

The next time you hit the snow with your pals, if you call your snowmobile a sled, will they know what you mean?

Yes, definitely, or at least, they should. The terms snowmobile and sled can be used interchangeably. Depending on where in the world you call home, some fellow riders may also not use the word snowmobile at all, but rather, snowmachine. If they go out on their snowmobile, they may say they’re snowmachining. 

There’s also no difference between a snowmobile and a snowmachine besides regional preference. It’s like how some people call the fizzy, sugary beverage soda and others pop. They’re both talking about the same thing, it’s just named differently in some parts of the country than others. 

Other Useful Snowmobiling Slang to Know

For the rest of this article, we thought it’d be fun to share some other slang terms that may come up if you go sleddin’ often enough (or snowmachining). You can impress your riding buddies the next time you pull one of these terms out. 

Also, some are good to know from a safety perspective so you can ensure you don’t get lost or misdirected on your snowmobiling adventures. 

Zone

When most people think of the word “zone,” it’s to be in the zone, or feeling the flow of the activity you’re doing. In the world of snowmobiling, a zone has a different meaning. It’s simply the area you’re riding in.

For example, if you’re snowmobiling lower on a mountainside to avoid avalanches, then you’d let your buddies know that’s where sledding zone is. 

Ghost Ride

Here’s a snowmobiling scenario that might have happened to you once or twice. When riding your sled, you fall off, but then the vehicle keeps going without anyone on it. Depending on how close you are to a hill, your snowmobile can continue traveling quite a ways until something makes it stop, such as a fence, a rock, or a tree. 

This situation is known as a ghost ride because your snowmobile is still operating without a driver.

Tracked Out

Have you ever had one of those days where you forget to set your alarm, oversleep, and get yourself dressed and out of the house several hours later than you intended? If, by the time you hit the slopes, most of the snowmobiling crowd is already there, then the area is tracked out, or packed to the gills. You’d better try again tomorrow. 

Blower Plow

It’s great if you can find the type of snow that sledders refer to as blower plow. This is a dry but light snow powder that moves airily and even floats.

Mashed Potatoes

The opposite of blower plow is snow that’s like mashed potatoes. No, this isn’t the food, but rather, a descriptive term for wet, soggy, heavy snow that’s no fun to ride in.

Lawn Dart

You know the trajectory of a lawn dart when you throw it, right? You can also lawn dart on your snowmobile if you hit it into something at the nose.

Inversion

Inversion is another weather-related snowmobiling term. The clouds are low in the sky, conditions may be foggy, and the cold is dense underneath all that. This is the underside of the inversion. On the other side, conditions feel warmer and sunnier.

Poke

If a friend tells you they want to take a poke in a certain direction, should you let them go? Maybe, but it depends on the conditions. This term means the snowmobiler is exploring off the beaten path, although they’re probably not going far in.

Flat Light

On days with flat light, the weather is overcast. This can occur due to lots of snow or significant cloud cover. Either way, your visibility has reduced to the point where you can’t see too far in front of you. Snowmobiling in flat light isn’t the best idea. 

Stick It

You want to stick it every time you’re on your sled, but that probably won’t always be the case. That’s because to stick it means you’ve done a great trick or landed a tough jump. Make sure you tell your friends congrats for sticking it the next time you all go sledding together. 

Landmines

Beware of landmines on your snowmobile, whether literal or figurative ones. A landmine your friend warns you of is any obstacle, such as a stump or rock, that’s not immediately visible because it’s buried in the snow. 

Hearing someone shout about a landmine is a great way to grab your attention, even on your snowmobile!

Freeriding

When you go freeriding on your snowmobile, you’re letting loose, having fun, and seeing what your sled can really do. There’s no path to abide by and fewer rules, but always be safe and conscious of others in the vicinity. 

Bluebird

When your friend talks about a bluebird, it’s not that there was just a lovely winged creature flying through the sky. Instead, this slang is about the sky itself. On those beloved bluebird days, the conditions are clear, the clouds are nearly gone, and it’s bright and sunny. You’ll long for bluebird days. 

Final Thoughts

Like many other sports and activities, snowmobiling has its own slang terms. One of the most commonly referred ones is a sled, which is just another word for a snowmobile. 

By learning which vernacular your fellow snowmobilers use, you can better your bonds, understand the commands your friends throw at you, and feel like more of a part of the snowmobiling community. 

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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