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A Look Back in History: The Evolution of Snowmobiles


When you head out on to your snowmobile and zip through the brisk winter air, you probably don’t realize that you’re participating in a hobby that’s about to have its 100th birthday. But it’s true—the history of snowmobiling stretches back just about 100 years, and as you’d expect, the technology has seen some significant changes and advancements over that time.

Let’s take a brief look back at the history of snowmobiling and how snowmobiles have evolved over the years.

  • 1922: In this year, 99 years ago, the very first snowmobile was invented by Joseph-Armand Bombardier. Of course, it did not much resemble the snowmobiles you find out on the trails these days, but it was the beginning of snowmobiling and the start of years of innovations.
  • 1924: Sayner, Wisconsin. In this year, Carl Eliason developed a “motor toboggan,” a very similar take on the snowmobile. He would receive a patent for the motor toboggan in 1927. The original prototype featured liquid coolant and a front engine, and looked like something out of Frankenstein’s laboratory.
  • 1931: The Tucker SNO-Cat was developed by Emmitt M. Tucker, Sr., a precursor to the trail groomers you see on snowmobile trails today.
  • 1937: Bombardier gets a patent for his very first tracked vehicle, a big step forward in snowmobile development. His company opened its doors in Quebec in 1942.
  • 1941: Eliason’s snowmobile goes into production in Clintonville, WI at the Four Wheel Drive Auto Company. By 1947, manufacturing of these snowmobiles transfers to Kitchener, Ontario, where production continued until 1963.
  • 1956: Enter Polaris. The very first production snowmobile by Polaris, the Sno-Traveler, goes into production. The company was founded two years earlier in Roseau, Minnesota. In 1957, the company begins producing the Autoboggan, a massive form of snowmobile.
  • 1961: Edgar Heteen leaves Polaris to found Arctic Cat in Thief River Falls, Minnesota. The company’s first snowmobile, the Model 500, went into production in 1962. By 1964, the company had created its first two-stroke engine.
  • 1968: This was the year Yamaha decided to get into snowmobiles, developing a two-stroke twin-cylinder SL350 that became the very first snowmobile to have slide valve carburetors.
  • 1978: By this year, liquid cooling begins to be a standard in snowmobile manufacturing. Major manufacturers start o offer it as a key feature by this year.
  • 1980s: Throughout the 1980s, some important milestones in snowmobile development occurred. Polaris made its TXL Indy 340 in 1980, the very first production snowmobile with independent front suspension. In 1984, Yamaha introduced the Phazer, a snowmobile that set a new standard for mountain snowmobiling, and then in 1988 introduced the Sno Scoot, an 80-cc snowmobile designed for kids.
  • 1990s: The 1990s saw the first snowmobile from an OEM with fuel injection (Polaris Indy 650 RXL EFI), the first batteryless electronic fuel injection snowmobiles (from Arctic Cat) and the first snowmobiles with electronic reverse.
  • 2000: In a pioneering move for sustainability, Arctic Cat tested a pair of prototype four-stroke snowmobiles to use in Yellowstone National park.
  • 2002: This year saw the first full-production four-stroke Trail and Touring models from Arctic Cat, as well as a new rider-forward concept with Ski-Doo’s REV platform.
  • 2010: Timbersled produced and tested its first snow bike systems in Ponderay, Idaho.
  • 2014: Ski-Doo made the very first 174-inch projection sled, introduced for the 2015 model year.
  • 2020: There were more than 120,000 snowmobiles sold across the world, a massive number nearly 100 years after the designs of the first machines.

Snowmobiling has come a long way since its humble beginnings in Wisconsin and Canada, and continues to evolve. The next time you head out for a snowmobile adventure, take a moment to reflect on the part you’re playing in that continually developing history!

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