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The World of Snowmobiles

The first mass produced, compact sized snowmobile was manufactured by Bombardier back in 1959.  Prior to that time, other snow machines were made, but most of those were larger and not suitable for use by the general public.  One of the earlier snow track machines was a 12 passenger vehicle made by Bombardier but it was primarily used by military and police and for professional use.  It wasn't until Joseph-Armand Bombardier (sometimes referred to as the "father of snowmobiles") and his company released the compact sized Ski-Doo in 1959 that this winter wonderland recreational activity really took off!  It wasn't long before other manufacturers joined along with Bombardier in developing new and exciting snowmobiles.  If you look at the humble beginnings of the snowmobile in the early Ski-Doo machines, it is easy to see that they have come a long way since then.  Modern snowmobiles are a far cry from their crude predecessors!

1959 Ski Doo Snowmobile

1959 Ski-Doo Snowmobile

Early machines were grossly underpowered and quite crude & simplistic in their design.  As snowmobiles gained in popularity over the years, more compact sized high performance 2 stroke engines began to power these sleds to impressive top speeds with arm stretching acceleration.  If you've never ridden a 2 stroke snowmobile, it is impressive what these lightweight engines can do with their high power to weight ratio!  Below are some pictures of different Yamaha snowmobiles from different time periods showing the evolution of these snow machines into what are now modern day, high performance snowmobiles.

1970 Yamaha SS396

1970 SS396


1980 Yamaha SRX Snowmobile

1980 SRX


1992 Yamaha VMax4

1992 VMAX-4


2003 Yamaha RX-1 Snowmobile

2003 RX-1


2013 Apex SE

2013 Apex SE

The author of this article remembers the first time that he rode an old 1980's Yamaha Enticer 300 snowmobile.  This was a small machine with a very small and mild 300 cc engine.  It didn't even have dual carbs.  Just a single carburetor feeding both cylinders.  The exhaust looked pretty crude as well.  Even so, the first time this snowmobile was ridden with high traction conditions, if felt like the sled was about ready to stand up and pull the front end up!  When riding around with a passenger on back, if the throttle was goosed when the passenger was not ready, that small sled could sometimes buck them off the back.  It was amazing how well that small engine could make that sled accelerate!  Top speed would not have broken any land speed records, but it felt plenty fast for a 300 cc sled.  All that to say, it is impressive what the sled manufacturers were able to do with these small, lightweight 2 cycle engines!  These 2 stroke engines mated to a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) have been the mainstay of snowmobiles for decades.  In recent times, these high powered 2 stroke engines have started to be replaced by powerful 4 stroke engines.  In part, this is due to tightening emissions restrictions imposed by government agencies.  Also, generally speaking, 4 strokes have the advantage of being quieter and more user friendly than most 2 stroke engines.  Even so, it's hard to beat the insane power output of modern 2 stroke snowmobile engines!   In modern snowmobiles, it is not uncommon to for these machines (both 2 and 4 stroke models) to crank out 100+ HP and reach break neck speeds of OVER 100 MPH!  Just to give you an idea of how far snowmobile technology has gone, let's take a look at a 4 stroke engine that Arctic Cat has developed for their sleds. 

How about a 123 HP 1100 (1056 cc) twin cylinder 4 stroke engine that provides smooth power throughout the powerband.  If that's not enough power for you, then what about a turbocharged and intercooled 1100 that cranks out an industry leading 177 HP!  Think about that for a minute.  A whopping 177 HP in a snowmobile that weighs around 550 lbs.  That's amazing!  That's more power than many full-sized cars that are driving around on the road today that weigh 5-6 times more.

Arctic Cat Snowmobile Engine

Arctic Cat 1100 Turbocharged & Intercooled 

If that power to weight ratio is not good enough for you, then the Arctic Cat 800 boasts a 163 HP 2 stroke engine in a sled that weighs close to 450 lbs!  Compared to the snowmobiles of yesteryear, these power to weight ratios are incredible especially considering how far the 4 stroke engines have come over the years.  These modern day ultra high performance snow machines will try to rip your arms out of their sockets with their insane amounts of power and performance.  It is definitely a far cry from the humble beginnings of the snowmobile!