The big development in snowmobile technology, in the wake of the controversy over banning snowmobiles from National Parks, due to emission problems, has been the production of 4-stroke snowmobiles. Arctic Cat has already been testing its model, the 4-stroke Trail, which uses a triple-cylinder engine from a Suzuki car, and Polaris is introducing both short and long-track Frontier models for the 2002-2003 season. Ski-Doo is, apparently, also at work on a 4-stroke model.
Mind you, everybody’s been focusing on developing 4-stroke snowmobile engines in response to the emissions problems. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Clean Snowmobile 2001 competition was held in spring 2001 in Jackson, Wyoming, with over $12000 for first prize.
Winners, the University of Waterloo [Ontario, CA], posted 60 per cent or better reductions in carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and unburned hydrocarbons in the rigorous emissions test versus the “control” snowmobile.
Two-stroke engines have an advantage in weight, simplicity and high horsepower-to-weight ratios, making them popular for high performance off-highway uses, but they typically suffer from incomplete combustion resulting in higher hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide emissions when compared with four-stroke engines.
But how new is Arctic Cat’s 4-stroke, even though popular magazines are calling them “Cat’s revolutionary four-stroke sleds”? Not new at all. As you can see from this Dealer in Eagle River’s display machine, the Panther 715 HX, Arctic Cat was making 4-stroke snowmobiles around thirty years ago! So, is the 4-stroke an innovative wave of the future, or simply a rerun at history?
And if the 4-stroke isn’t new, what about some of the other innovations we’re always thanking modern technology for? How new are they?
Liquid Cooled Snowmobiles
In the eighties, liquid cooled engines became popular, replacing the free airs and fan cooled models previously used. But who really made the first liquid cooled snow machine? It was Carl Eliason on the motor toboggan he patented in 1924. Shown below.
Slide rail suspensions gained their popularity after proving themselves on the race track in 1969 on Roger Janssen’s Arctic Cat. But, was the idea of the slide rail really all that original? No. As I discovered at the Vintage Show, this old Husky model used a wood slider! With lubrication from the snow, it probably worked very effectively.
Recent years have seen an upsurge in making snowmobiling a family sport and new ways to get the youngest riders hooked on sledding. In 2002 you can purchase:
- Ski-Doo Mini-Z. 118 cc engine, fan cooled, 27 inch ski stance, that weighs 70 kg or around 160 pounds.
- Arctic Cat ZR 120. 119 cc engine, fan cooled, 32 inch ski stance, that weighs 75 kg or around 175 pounds.
- Polaris 120 XC SP. 121 cc, fan cooled, 30 inch ski stance, that weighs around 63 kg or 140 pounds.
When our kids were small, the only snowmobile available [periodically] for kids to ride was the Arctic Cat Kitty-Kat. But was that really all that’s been manufactured for family snowmobiling over the decades? Not at all! Check out some of these sleds, which ranged from the size of today’s sleds [bigger than the kitty-kat], to a wee bit larger, but went up to 30 mph! Today’s manufacturers put more of a whoa on for safety!
and how about these great tag-alongs…
The Quest for Speed
This year’s line-up of sleds contains some triple cyclinders: Ski-Doo’s Mach I with 800 cc’s, the Yamaha SRX 700 with 696 cc’s, the Polaris 800 XCR with 794 cc’s, and the Arctic Cat Thundercat at 999 cc’s. As well, there are lots of twin cylinder performance models from Ski-Doo, Yamaha, Arctic Cat, and Polaris with up to 800 cc engines, plus the industry’s new kid on the block, the Blade. The Blade offers the ultimate in performance technology, plus its Polaris twin-cylinder engines.
It will likely come as no surprise that speed has long been at the top of the list for snowmobile enhancements over the years. Here’s my favorite, the Boss Cat III from Arctic Enterprises.
So what is really new? Well, technology keeps improving, so that those new sleds ride and handle better every year. And snowmobile manufacturers are adapting to the changing world – sometimes by taking old ideas and making them better, and sometimes just by plain old innovation!
Copyright 2002 by David Aksomitis. First published in January 2002.