Snowmobiles, often referred to as snow machines or by longtime riders as sleds, are one or two-seat land machines. They are propelled by a track at the back end and steered by handlebars that control a pair of skis at the front. They are designed specifically to travel over snow, but are occasionally used to pass over small sections of water or dry land. Snowmobiling is a great family activity. It is an activity that keeps parents and kids together. Historically individuals who snowmobile at a young age continue to snowmobile with their parents and continue in the sport throughout their lives, sharing great experiences as a family. In many winter regions, snowmobiling is simply the main form of winter outdoor recreation and in some cases the main method of transportation available.
First developed in 1916, snow machines have evolved from large and cumbersome vehicles into small, sleek, and fast machines able to transport people and supplies over snow-covered terrain at speeds in excess of 120 mph. The first snowmobiles, developed from 1916-1920, usually involved stripping a Model T Ford of its undercarriage, replaced by tracks and skis for the snow. By 1959, in response to the creation of lighter and smaller engines, the Canadian company Bombardier constructed the first modern snowmobile - termed “Ski-doo”. This sprang a diverse culture of riding enthusiasts and competitive manufacturers that has evolved into a staggering $28 billion dollar industry worldwide.
Snowmobile use is most prominent in northern climates where the snow and cold have a large impact on everyday life. North America, Scandinavia, and parts of Europe have the highest number of registered snowmobiles, with 2.2 million in North America and 420,000 in Scandinavia. Most snowmobile production is catered towards recreational users; enthusiasts who seek enjoyment through adventure and exploration. These riders generally transit a well-maintained and groomed network of over 225, 000 miles of trails across North America.
A more extreme culture of riders has spawned from traditional snowmobiling, including “trailblazers” who seek to venture deep into remote territory where there is often no visible path to travel on. Other riders are involved in snowmobile competition; from racing and aerial maneuvers to cross-country challenges. In response, many snowmobiles have been extensively modified with customized parts that increase power and agility. There are approximately 2.6 million snowmobiles in the world and over
3, 000 snowmobiling clubs.
Snowmobiling also has a huge economic impact in the northern U.S. and Canada. Some smaller North American towns rely exclusively upon snowmobile tourism and usage during the winter months. The industry generates about 85, 000 full time jobs in North America. In 2007, there were 79,815 new snowmobiles sold in the U.S. and 45, 477 sold in Canada. A new snowmobile can sell from anywhere between $4,500 and $12, 000. This production has also generated a large support industry that creates clothing, accessories, and parts for snowmobiles.
Until the end of the twentieth century, most snowmobiles were powered by two stroke engines notorious for their loud noise, pollution, and back-wrenching pull cords. Recently, most manufacturers have turned to quieter, environmentally-friendly four stroke engines that include a host of modern accessories: heated seats, hand warmers, global positioning systems, and even outlets for cell phones and other electronic devices. The tracks -deeply grooved rubberized belts- are wider, more pliable and quieter, and metal skis have been replaced by space-age compounds.
Ultimately, snowmobiling is a diverse and growing sport that attracts people from all aspects of life. It is one of the most technologically advanced activities in the world, as manufacturers are constantly striving to produce user and environmentally-friendly machines. Snowmobile users also have a large impact on their local communities; they raised over $3 million for charity in the 2006/2007 season.