Will Snowmobiles Go Electric?
Sustainable Travel Vs Having Fun
Last Christmas we went snowmobiling in Vermont with friends. It was as you can imagine a whole lot of fun. The staggering beauty of this New England state really shines through in winter. It’s all snow-packed slopes, skis, and hot cocoa by the fire. We tried to fit in as many activities as we could but it’s hard to beat the power sport in your itinerary. That’s the one you remember long after.
The sheer thrill of operating a machine that glides, skims, and if you so want, catches air through snowy trails is the ride of a lifetime. We took the Mountain Tour to experience it to the fullest. One misstep and into a ditch you go or worse, tumble down the rocks. The guides were knowledgeable and helpful so even first timers were comfortable on the trail.
But all this fun and excitement comes at a cost, in the form of noise and air pollution. It’s impossible to exist without disrupting animals and plants in some way or other. You could go hiking and unintentionally wake up a hibernating bear. There’s this constant struggle to enjoy responsibly or to travel with sustainability in mind. We have buzz words like eco tourism and green travel. They all mean the same thing, that we need to be conscious of the negative impacts we have on the environment while traveling, and if possible, minimize them.
So of course, I came back home and googled the environmental impact of snowmobiles and guess what? Power sports are going electric!
According to this sobering Washington Post article,
The climate benefits of shifting the power sports industry away from fossil fuels could be significant. Snowmobiles in the United States consumed almost 150 million gallons of gasoline in 2020, the Federal Highway Administration estimated. Non-highway motorcycles used more than 216 million gallons and all-terrain vehicles another 382 million. Boating guzzled a whopping 2.3 billion gallons. Combined, that’s the equivalent to the planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions of nearly 6 million cars operating for a year.
The good news is that the electric recreation industry is awash with new ideas and products. Canada based Taiga is the maker of one of the world’s first electric snowmobiles and industry big names like Polaris, Arctic Cat and BRP (which owns the Ski-Doo and Sea-Doo brands) are all investing in a quieter cleaner form of snowmobiling. Then there’s Aurora Powertrains from Finland, a company that manufactures eSleds that offer tours of the northern lights, an experience that’s been on my bucket list for a while now.
Going Fully Green Isn’t Easy
While going electric may be a step in the right direction, the electricity that’s being used to charge the vehicles must come from clean or renewable sources for the move to be considered actually beneficial for the environment. See, I told you, it’s not easy to travel green.
A Touch of History
The first snowmobile was built in 1935 as a means of transportation and the first buyers were doctors, ambulance drivers and priests living in remote areas. It mostly replaced the dogsleds and to some extent skis and snowshoes. But as you can see below it was not a patch on the futuristic powerful beasts we ride today!
Back in 2020 Polaris CEO Scott Wine thought “it was the dumbest idea ever” but he has since then changed his mind and invested millions. The limited range, the high cost, and the hard-to-convince traditionalists who love the way the gas engine sounds (I do too!) are stumbling blocks that will have to be overcome.
According to Taiga, the Nomad gets around 62 miles per charge. They also have a $2,000 performance package with a larger battery where your range moves up to 83 miles. The company is planning to expand its network of chargers around strategically important points and develop a service network as well. Electric and gas snowmobiles share many similar parts and the electric motor rarely if ever requires servicing. In the off chance it does, it can be swapped out as a single component.
Cruises also harm the environment, especially our oceans but it’s easy enough to avoid them. I can happily say I will never get on a cruise in my lifetime. I don’t like the concept. It’s not my kind of travel. But I like the power and exhilaration that a snowmobile provides and once in a while, I would like to get on a trail in Vermont. If there’s a sustainable cleaner way to do it, I can do that too.
You can read about our other snowmobiling experience in Vermont here.