The Complete History of Snowmobiles

the complete history of snowmobiles

From Oversnow Vehicle to Motor Toboggan to the Modern Snowmobile

Modern snowmobiles appeared fairly recently in history, but the development of over-snow vehicles goes back many years. In the United States and Canada, the “snowmobile” went through decades of patenting and perfecting before it became anything like the vehicle it is today. In this blog, we’ll explore the timeline of snowmobiling: how it began, how it stuck, and where it’s come to today. Read on to learn about the complete history of snowmobiling. 

It’s no secret that snowmobiles have increased the popularity of outdoor winter recreation. According to this snowmobile education course study guide, “more than three million people in the United States and Canada snowmobile each winter, enjoying more than 230,000 miles of groomed public trails.” Let’s see how we got from there to here!

Carving the Way to the Modern Snowmobile

carving the way to the modern snowmobile

In places where the winters bring long months of heavy snowfall, traveling over and through snow is a must. In the United States during the early 1900s, this was a problem for many people. As different solutions to this problem began developing, so began the origins of the snowmobile. However, snow vehicles for single riders (snowmobiles) were not the first vehicles built to travel through snow. 

In fact, it was the logging industry that carved the way for the modern snowmobile to appear. In 1908, a man by the name of Alvin Lombard built the first over-snow vehicle. He came from Waterville, Maine, and his 20-ton machine was used only for log-hauling. This machine was huge, resembling a steam locomotive but with a half-track design and front skis. A beast this big could haul through snow, sure, but it certainly wasn’t built for individual travel.

imagine living somewhere like that

Imagine living somewhere in the deep, wintery woods of North America in 1908, and a member of your family falls ill. Unless you live close to town, finding your way to a doctor (or for that matter, a doctor finding their way to you) is going to be incredibly difficult if there’s any sense of urgency. Thus, the impact of the snowmobile was going to be massive. 

Ultimately, recreational use became the real money-winner, though. But it took quite a while (and many designs) before we got to the snowmobile industry we know today!

The First Snowmobile

the model T ford was the first sled in the history of snowmobiles

It all began when a Ford dealer in New Hampshire invented a track and ski conversion system for the Model T Ford. The man’s name was Virgil White, and the year was 1913. About 10 years later, a young man from Canada would begin his journey of patenting and perfecting features of the Model T to travel over snow. 

It was the winter of 1922 when Armand Bombardier designed a wind-driven sleigh using a Model T engine. It was only the first of many snowmobile designs, but not the first patent. Bombardier is now known as the man who first invented the “modern snowmobile”. He is the same man behind the iconic Ski-Doo Snowmobile brand. 

The Motorized Toboggan

the first snowmobile

Meanwhile, in Sayner, Wisconsin, a man named Carl Eliason was working hard on a similar project of his own. In 1927, the first snowmobile patent was issued. His patent defined the first workable, single-track, one-passenger snowmobile. 

Eliason called it a motor toboggan, which essentially described just what it was. It was a wooden, motorized toboggan “fitted with two skis, which were steered with ropes, powered by a 2 ½ horsepower Johnson outboard motor, and pushed by an endless steel cleated track.” 

What was particularly neat about his machine was that it had “a front-mounted, liquid-cooled engine that used a jackshaft.” His version groomed the path toward what we recognize as the modern snowmobile. 

A Timeline of the History of Snowmobiles

In the years between 1927 and 1962, thirteen patents were granted for snow vehicles. Eliason’s snow vehicles went into production through Sayner for fifteen years. During this time, other companies spent decades patenting the many versions of snowmobiles. 

Let’s break down a basic timeline of the history of snowmobiles:

history of snowmobiles

1927

Carl Eliason patented the feature of his motorized toboggan, defining the first workable, single-track, one-passenger snowmobile.

1937

Armand Bombardier patented a tracked vehicle for traveling over snow.

The 1940s

An “iron dog” machine went into production. Larger, slower, and clumsier than modern snowmobiles, it was primarily used by hunters, trappers, and power company service crews.

By 1947, Bombardier began manufacturing snow machines capable of carrying up to 12 people. The military used these machines for the most part. However, the Canadian police, mining and oil companies, and ski resorts adopted it.

The 1950s

Polaris Industries made a commitment to the development, testing, and manufacturing of the definitive single-track snowmobile.

history of snowmobiles

1958-59

Bombardier finally pulled the trigger and launched the Ski-Doo snowmobile. The lighter, more maneuverable machine was a huge success with the public. Numerous other companies soon rushed their versions into production, giving rise to the sport of snowmobiling.

1968

Yamaha manufactured its first snowmobile. They were the most successful of their time, yet with only 350 manufactured in total.

history of snowmobiles

The 1970s 

Snowmobile racing was now very popular. Yamaha’s SRX440 model was at the top of the charts of the racing scene. 

The 1980s

At this point, technology began to allow for special additional advancements. Heated handlebar warmers were one of these new features. Around this time, a man named Gerard Karpik introduced the M-10 suspension. This allowed for harder riding over rough terrain, a necessary improvement for cross-country riders.

The 1990s

Polaris launched a new revolution in the history of snowmobiles with electronic fuel injection. It created a better fuel economy, smoother riding, and better performance in general.

The Ski-Doo

history of snowmobiles

By the late 50s, Bombardier had finally created the lightweight, speedy snow machine that set the stage for how the industry would continue to grow. It was a point of no return! “The modern engines had become small enough and light enough to make this design possible. [His] design revolutionized the snowmobile industry with its tunnel mounted engine, combined chassis/hood, and an endless rubber track affixed via sprung bogie wheels.”

By 1962, he patented his track design in both Canada and the United States. It was approved for mass production in 1964. From there, the competitors really began to trickle in. Brands like Arctic Cat, for example, wanted to change things up, helping to drive the ever-evolving history of snowmobiles forward to the next step.

The Arctic Cat

history of snowmobiles

In 1965, Arctic Cat made some crucial alterations to Bombardier’s suspension design. “They replaced the bogie wheels that were being used in Bombardier’s design, to keep the machine on the track, with a pair of slide rails running on the cleats of the track. This design allowed for shock absorbers to be added, which would aid in smoothing the ride of the snowmobile.” 

“The very next year, Arctic Cat redesigned yet another feature of their snowmobile. The new design moved the engine from on top of the drive unit, located behind the driver, and placed it in the front of the track tunnel, in the belly pan of the front of the machine. By moving the engine they were able to lower the center of gravity of the snowmobile, which balanced it with the rider’s body weight. This proved for substantially better handling and performance.”

history of snowmobiles

To this day, the four major manufacturers use this basic design concept. It took only two years for Arctic Cat to bring the snowmobile into the “unexplored territory of sport riding and performance vehicles.”

A Long History of Snowmobiles

It’s crazy to think snowmobiles started from a log-hauling, 20-ton machine, isn’t it? The long history of snowmobiles will continue changing year after year. Thanks to the genius of Bombardier from 1922 to the 1960s, snowmobiling became what it is today. As the popularity of snowmobile riding continues to grow, so will the technological advances, making for a bright, innovative future ahead!

history of snowmobiles

We hope you enjoyed this as much as we did; maybe you even learned a thing or two. At TMS Parts, y’all know we have a special place in our hearts for all things snowmobile. Take a peek at another recent blog we did featuring a handful of really cool vintage snowmobiles!

TMS Parts Recap: the Best Snowmobile Apps of 2019

best snowmobile apps

Beyond Paper Maps: The Best Snowmobile Apps for your Smart Phone

The tech-savvy snowmobiler knows that the days of paper maps are long gone. But there are plenty of more ways that your smartphone can make your riding life much easier. The Maps app on your phone can already give you an idea of where you can ride. However, these apps will give you an idea of so much more! If you want to see your trails in real-time and navigate your snowmobile through places you’ve never seen before, keep reading! We’re going to talk about all of the best snowmobile apps out there in 2019.

best snowmobile apps

Our Favorite Snowmobile Apps of the Year!

Whether you’ve got an iPhone, Android device, or otherwise, you’re going to love these fantastic snowmobile apps. Each one offers something slightly different and has its own advantages and disadvantages. Let’s take a look at the best snowmobile apps of the year.

best snowmobile apps for the year

OFSC Interactive Trail Guide

This app is a little more niche than the rest on our list, but if you’re looking for the best snowmobile trail map for Ontario, you’ve found it! The OFSC Interactive Trail Guide app is absolutely the best source for trails in Ontario, Canada. The app downloads several maps daily to keep you and your ride group constantly informed of all the opened and closed trails in the region.

There are more than 18,000 miles of trails in the province of Ontario. If you’re a Canadian citizen or an American visiting for the snowmobile vacation of a lifetime, the OFSC app is just what you needed. View real-time trail conditions, fuel stops close to your location, and plenty more!

use these apps to help you navigate the back country trails

Backcountry Navigator

Maybe you’re not an Ontario native, though. What are you going to use when you get back home? Sure, you’ve got your GPS app, but you can do even better. Well, luckily for our Canadian readers and our American readers, the Backcountry Navigator app covers 5 Canadian provinces and 27 U.S. states!

The Backcountry Navigator app has nearly 200,000 miles of trails in its database. There are thousands of numbered intersections and trails, and you can even search for the specific trail you’re looking for. Another great feature is that the app doesn’t require a WiFi or data connection that drains your battery. Backcountry Navigator works offline to save your battery life. You can even view previously downloaded maps while you’re offline. Conserve your battery life without ever getting lost!

get a weather app that also helps you on the trails

RadarScope

Having an accurate weather app on your phone is important for day to day life. You want to know when you’re going to need that umbrella or pair of gloves before you leave the house. But if you’re out camping and riding, the 7-day forecast doesn’t mean so much. You need to know what weather is happening today, and where it’s happening.

One great way to keep up to date on the weather while you’re in the middle of it is with the RadarScope app. RadarScope shows you the weather radar in real-time. Watch how storms are moving around your camping area so you can know what to avoid and where to plan your rides during the day. If you love to get out into the wilderness and really experience it, RadarScope is an essential part of your tool kit. 

snocross racer snowmobile

Polaris Ride Command App

We’ve talked about a few really great apps, but perhaps our very favorite one is the Polaris Ride Command app for the iPhone and Android. Ride Command gives you the ultimate eagle’s eye view of your ride group. You can designate one of your riders as the leader, and every member will be able to see their exact GPS position. You’ll also be able to see the trail, and how you can go about getting back to them. The app even acts as a convenient portal for calling or texting the other members of your crew, and a way to invite even more members!

The Ride Command app will ask you to choose whether you’re looking for a snowmobile or ATV trail, and the rest is easy! You can record your trips and add waypoints so you never lose track of that awesome trail you didn’t plan on finding. The app also shows you points of interest and rest stops on your journey. 

We already talked about a weather app, but if you like the minimalist approach to your phone, the Ride Command app has a weather function in it. It also allows you to register your ride group’s vehicles to see warranty information, keep maintenance records, and see the closest dealers to perform services on your snowmobiles. 

We love all of these apps, but the Ride Command app really does it all!

get ready to ride with confidence

Get Ready to Ride with Confidence with the Best Snowmobile Apps

You don’t have to ride blind into a storm when you go out for the afternoon. You don’t have to spend your week researching trails to have a safe ride, either. If you’re looking for a way to enhance your riding experience this season, you’ve found the right article! Take a look at each app’s website and find the perfect snowmobile app to make 2020 the best riding season ever!

What Is Snocross Racing?

what is snocross racing

Welcome to Your New Favorite Winter Sport

The popularity of Snocross racing is on the rise, yet many people outside of the snowmobiling community still have yet to hear of it. Snocross has been around in an official capacity at least since the early 90s. However, it still hasn’t seen the same popularity as other extreme sports. Of course, people have been racing snowmobiles since they were first invented. Snocross goes beyond a simple contest of speed between sleds, though. If you’re looking for a new extreme winter sport to become obsessed with, let’s talk about what snocross racing really is.

How Does Snocross Racing Work?

snowmobile racer snocross

First of all, what exactly is snocross racing? Snocross (a combination of motocross and snowmobiling) is competitive snowmobile racing. But it doesn’t involve typical snowmobiles or your average trail or racetrack. The main thing separating it from other traditional snowmobile racing events is the added complications of the track. 

The Snocross Race Track

snocross racing track

The tracks contain “tight turns, banked corners, steep jumps, and obstacles.” The racers line up side by side. Then, at the drop of the flag or signal, they blast into the track.

Racers push their way to the front at speeds up to 60 miles per hour. However, the race becomes even more intense as riders navigate the obstacles coming at them. These obstacles include jumps up to 30 feet tall. 

The winner is generally the racer with the best holeshot. Check out this GoPro video of a racer in the world’s premier snocross series.

The Snocross Racing Sleds

snocross racing sled

Another defining feature of the sport is the sleds. Snocross racing involves high-performance racing snowmobiles which tend to be stock-class 600 sleds at the highest competitive levels. These snowmobiles are lightweight and handle exceedingly well. Most importantly, however, racers rely on a powerful engine and lightweight suspension system. This makes the machines able to carry riders through extreme conditions at top speed. 

Taken to the Extreme

snocross racer snowmobile

Chances are, even if you haven’t heard of snocross racing, you’ve heard of the X Games. The first annual event was held in 1995, announcing the arrival of an official extreme sports competition. 

The X Games brought world-class athletes together to face off and compete for medals in front of a national audience. In 1998, snocross was established as an event in the games. From that point on, its audience only grew larger. In 2002, ESPN began providing live coverage of the Winter X Games, and the phenomenon was officially up and running. 

Amsoil Championship Snocross

amsoil championship snocross racing

However, there are other snocross racing events, such as Amsoil Championship Snocross. Amsoil has been around longer and is currently “the premier snowmobiling racing organization in the world”. The X Games televised the sport and brought it into homes across the country. However, Amsoil Championship Snocross is the true center of the sport’s community and culture. 

They host events and hold races at national and regional levels in classes for men and women. Levels range from a pro, pro lite, all the way down to the Stock 200 category for kids aged 6-12. If you want to find out more about watching or getting involved, take a look at their official rulebook regarding races.

Make Winter as Fun as Possible with Snocross Racing!

pro lite snocross series

Do you love snowmobiling and want to take that experience to the next level? Maybe you’re an aficionado of dirt bikes and motocross and find yourself waiting for winter to end? No matter where you fall on the winter sports spectrum, it may be time to look into snocross racing.

Whether you’re watching a race on TV, or at a live event, or even participating, snocross could be the key to making this winter the most fun yet. 

Look at these 7 Awesome Vintage Snowmobiles

7 vintage snowmobiles you just have to read about

Respecting the Classics

Around the holiday season, it’s easy to get worked up about the new snowmobiles on the block. They’ve got new electric starts, BlueTooth sound systems, and digital displays. They’ve got all the new gear to really turn heads. But nothing really turns heads like a classic, right? There’s just something about those old race sleds that takes you back. The shape, the sound of the motor – it all makes you think of the glory riding days of yesteryear. Let’s take a minute to walk down memory lane and look at 7 awesome vintage snowmobiles!

really awesome vintage snowmobiles

The 7 Best Vintage Snowmobiles Through the Ages

People like to say, “They don’t make them like they used to.” While we’re pretty big fans of all the innovations in making more efficient engines and safer sleds, seeing these old models definitely brings you back. How many of these classic sleds do you remember from the glory days?

1966 Arctic Cat Panther 

the 1966 vintage arctic cat panther snowmobile

The early Arctic Cat Panthers were legendary in many respects. The first reason for this being on our list is that this is one of the sleds that secured Arctic Cat’s place as a major snowmobile name. In the mid and late 1960s, Ski-Doo was the major name in the snowmobiling world. However, with the Panther, Arctic Cat began to break out from the pack.

Not only did we get a beautiful body from the Panther, but it also had a beautiful design. Fiberglass replaced heavy iron on the hood, shedding a lot of weight off the sled. It also featured slide rails instead of rollers inside the track. This snowmobile also had the engine placed in the front rather than the middle or back of the sled, giving riders weight where they needed it to help with traction. It was an innovative machine, and if you can believe it, beautiful, too.

1975 Ski-Doo TNT 

the 1975 vintage ski doo TNT snowmobile

Speaking of the big boys on the block, how about the 1975 Ski-Doo TNT? That’s not “TNT” as in “this sled is the bomb” (although it is), but actually Track n’ Trail. This sled was truly ready for it all. The first model of TNT was released in 1969, and this model persisted for over a decade. 

Most notable about this snowmobile was the sleek, trimmed-down design. You can see a definite progression in design between the comparatively clunky Panther and the slimmer TNT, especially in regard to aerodynamics. This Ski-Doo really put its focus on great handling and performance. 

1976 Yamaha SRX 340 

the shiny 1976 yamaha SRX 340 snowmobile

At its inception, the SRX was meant for a single purpose: speed. This model was designed to go fast, make tight turns, and keep cruising until the 2.6-gallon gas tank ran dry. The sled had aluminum skis, a tachometer because the speedometer was optional, and no windshield. We’re talking bare-bones speed.

Something really special about the ‘76 edition, the SRX 340, was that this was the first Yamaha to use a liquid-cooled engine. While earlier models were released as great options for normal trail riding, the SRX 340 was only meant as a race sled. It did the job well.

1980 Polaris TXL Indy 

the 1980 polaris TXL indy

In the earlier days of snowmobile riding, sleds were made for just that purpose – riding. Racing wasn’t as hot a spot as it is these days. We didn’t see many designs specifically for speed, but if you’re paying attention, you can see that those are some of our favorites. The Polaris TXL Indy was another one of these race sleds built to absolutely smoke the competition.

The Polaris TXL Indy featured great handling, sleek design, and really great suspension that made it easy to ride. You might often see in those days that factory racers could really only win on the sled they knew best. The TXL Indy was so well-rounded that just about anyone could hop on and start competing – and do it well. 

1980 Yamaha Enticer 

the 1980 yamaha enticer

Okay, so we’ve talked about some race sleds, but those aren’t the only ones that matter to us. All snowmobiles are beautiful! So how about we take a look at one of the most well-rounded factory vintage snowmobiles from the glory days, the Yamaha Enticer!

It didn’t have the sharp angles of the race sleds or the intimidating front end. That’s because the Enticer didn’t need them. What the Enticer offered was a great entry-level sled that any Tom, Dick, or Harry could hop on and have a great time. It was designed for easy use, with an oil-injection engine and disc brakes, but it retailed for only $1,000 dollars when it first came out in 1977. 

If you were a newer rider looking for something that you could enjoy without getting in too far over your head with mechanics, this was a perfect choice.

1982 Arctic Cat Jag 

1982 arctic cat jag vintage snowmobiles

Around the early ‘80s, we start to see snowmobiles taking a much more familiar shape. One of our favorite sleds from this time is the Arctic Cat Jag. Its design was much closer to our contemporary ideas of how a sled looks, unlike its more boxy predecessors. The Jag had a windshield, speedometer, great rear suspension, and looked pretty, to boot. 

While this wasn’t one of the top-tier sleds giving onlookers whiplash, it was a beautiful and solid machine. It was another great design from Arctic Cat that helped to keep them at the forefront of snowmobile design at the time.

1984 Yamaha Phazer 

1984 yamaha phazer was one of the coolest vintage snowmobiles

While they can’t all be winning race sleds, the Yamaha Phazer was definitely one of the winners. The Phazer’s cousin, the Enticer, was a great entry-level snowmobile. The Phazer, on the other hand, was what you would upgrade to once you got a taste for Yamaha engineering. 

So what made the Phazer so slick? It’s all in that aerodynamic design. A pivoting headlight aided in safely making it through the course. The excellent IFS and long-travel rear suspension gave it incredible handling. The combination of the sled’s lightweight and the tapered body and running boards made it hard to keep up with on the snow.

Our Picks for the Best Vintage Snowmobiles

We’ve come a long way in the snowmobiling world. Personally, we’re pretty glad that a speedometer comes stock on your sled now. How else can you know if you’re feeding the need for speed?

But, ignoring our technological advancements, there’s just something about those old sleds. The clunky bodies, the work, and dedication we put into vintage snowmobiles… the falls and scrapes we took along the way. It was all part of the learning curve. Looking back on it now, we wouldn’t have it any other way.