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History of Snowmobiles

History of Snowmobiles

Today, snowmobiling is a standard winter activity used both for the recreational fun and the ability to get around as needed. The vehicle behind this activity has a long history bolstering it on still to this day. When it comes to the history of snowmobiles, there are a few interesting points worth knowing as a fan of this vehicle type. Let's take a look at the history of snowmobiles in more detail.

The Beginning

When looking at the history of snowmobiles, there are a few important things to understand. For starters, the evolution of this machine was a process involving several key manufacturers with each one playing their own important role in the story. Every generation of snowmobile was a step in the right direction to get to where the machine is today. In the beginning, it all started with a patent. In 1911, a man named Harold J. Kalenze patented the Vehicle Propeller in Brandon, Manitoba, Canada. This patent was the first step in creating a snowmobile even though it would take a few more years for another patent to make any progress. In 1916, Ray H. Muscott received the first U.S. patent for his motor sleigh which was the first vehicle to use the now standard design of rear tracks and front skis.

While these patents were an important part of the snowmobile history, they didn't necessarily lead to the creation of snowmobiles for sale on the consumer market. There was definitely a need and desire for a vehicle capable of traveling over snowy, icy terrains, but the actual execution was still a work in progress. In fact, there were people taking the Ford Model T car and replacing the undercarriage with tracks and skis following the patents and calling them Snowflyers, but these had considerable safety concerns and lacked proper performance due to the bulky nature.

There were also what people called "motor bob" models which were converted into sleds from Indian motorcycles modified with side by side seating and a set of sled runners in the front and back. This design had the same issues of safety concerns as the Snowflyers, but this was one of the earliest examples of a personal snow vehicle operating on a motor for propulsion.

Bombardier Changes Things

In 1935, Joseph Bombardier changed the snowmobile landscape forever. He was the first to assemble and test an official snowmobile. This was the first vehicle made for winter riding using a sprocket wheel, track drive system, and completely steered by the use of skis. While this was an important step in the history of snowmobiles, these machines would not live up to the standards of today's riders. For starters, the early designs from Bombardier only had about 10 horsepower or 7.5 kW with two-stroke engines. While four-stroke engines would come around later on, it would take years of design innovations and streamlining to get the horsepower of today in modern snowmobiles. Today, snowmobiles are available in engine sizes going up to 1,200 ccs in terms of engine displacement which gives a higher horsepower rating. In fact, these early models of snowmobiles would go through decades of improvements and testing before hitting the consumer market to find success.

The early designs also had issues such as lack of maneuverability at short notice, uncomfortable riding angles for the seat, and substandard tracks or skis when faced with rough terrain. Bombardier took his operation to several snowy regions in Canada and continued to refine his model until he had worked out the kinks.

Ski-Doo Revolution

When Bombardier finally had the testing phase over and had created a snowmobile sure to excite the market, they decided to rebrand it as Ski Dog before the official launch in 1959. The name was meant to add a bit of fun to winter riding while making it clear that this was a vehicle for skiing through snowy terrains. There was a typo in the printed materials and the name was accidentally changed to Ski-Doo instead of Dog. From there, the brand took off with its popularity in Canada, a location known for heavy snowfall, driving it in sales. The Ski-Doo lineup had ironed out a lot of kinks from the previous Bombardier models to offer more power and performance while giving riders more comfort during the ride.

Ski-Doo completely changed the history of snowmobiles forever. They became a vehicle type the modern consumer actually sought out for their riding needs thanks to the design and ability to ride all winter long. They filled a gap in the market for winter riding where people usually had to store their motorcycles away for the season, and the snowmobile became the winter motorcycle alternative. The original customers for these machines were people with jobs requiring getting around snowy terrains such as land surveyors, trappers, hunters, and other people with an interest in the outdoors.

The machines would later expand to sports enthusiasts in the 1960s and 1970s when lighter frames and engines were introduced. Ski Doo snowmobiles were a force of function and fun by the time other manufacturers started introducing their own versions. In fact, by the 1970s, there were over 100 snowmobile manufacturers on the scene with 200 million machines sold from 1970 to 1973 alone. Many of these companies would end up folding during the oil crisis of the 70s which would leave Ski Doo and a handful of others as the leaders. Today, Ski Doo maintains their hold on the market for this type of vehicle and continues to excite new generations.

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