The title seems surprising, but it is a very important issue for many snowmobile fans. Must we quit snowmobiling after loss of strenght due to sickness or aging, when lifting a sled stuck in snow does not make us laugh anymore and is even strongly not recommended?
Of course, actual snowmobiles are much more reliable, more fuel-efficient and leave us with cleaner air. Thanks to injection, there are no more old carburetors that gave us more vapours on face and clothings than on pistons.
The introduction of rugged machines on the market, propelled by 4-stroke engines, even makes the manufacturers say that their snowmobiles are designed to last, not to be replaced each year. This new approach produces increased machine weight but also increased retail price.
Today, you can spend all day on trails without worrying about getting gas in remote areas where fewer and fewer gas stations are available and which opening hours are different from one another. So many hassle-free happy hours these years due to all this technology development!
What’s wrong today with the new snowmobiles does not concern their noise either, since they produce about 60 decibels. This is only a few more decibels than those produced by two persons talking.
The next improvements should concern the weight and handling in deep fresh snow. There are more and more baby-boomers who retire, often with high incomes, and they quit snowmobiling for different reasons. Which ones, since the old smoky, backfiring and unreliable motorizations have disappeared?
We talked with many people about this and here are some thoughts that should help the manufacturers to win back this large clientele.
A major problem is the snowmobile weight. Effectively, robustness and some features added for more comfort can bring much more weight to some sleds. Once stuck, these machines are too heavy and then, they are called by names of all saints. Even these will not replace friends’ help to get out of snow bank. At the moment, the situation becomes unpleasant even if later, friends will have a good laught about it around the table!
Many long-time snowmobilers told us that when they ride on groomed trails at reasonable speed, the heavy hi-tech suspensions appear to be unnecessary. Also, they should be able to stop on the side of a trail without the risk of getting stuck. Lightness and flotation are the most important features if they want to be able to get going again without any problem and even some times, ride off trails, for example on logging roads that are not groomed.
We met three friends snowmobilers who ride together since almost 50 years. They experienced many brands, models, technologies, breakages and damages, alterations and patch-up jobs. They still ride and each one of them swears only by his favorite brand that offers many characteristics he needs, but is not perfect yet.
Even if these 3 friends have their preferred manufacturer, they all agree that the 4 manufacturers’ next challenge will be to produce a lighter crossover snowmobile designed for riding on trails at reasonable speed. Our 3 wise octogenarians do not care anymore about racing, challenges or bets. They enjoy discovering landscapes they could not reach otherwise. They enjoy watching wildlife, meeting with friends in club houses and making projects.
Their perfect snowmobile would be lighter, fuel-efficient and with an autonomy of 400 km. It would be important to improve comfort by a large windshield that would also protect hands. Also, a 16" width track would greatly increase flotation without adding too much weight. This would be more important than a heavy hi-tech suspension. The gauge should allow them to read quickly and easily the data of the snowmobile without having to manipulate any button. So, they wish for a simple ergonomic gauge.
Despite the 4-stroke engines that limit snowmobile weight decrease, manufacturers are also developing 2-stroke engines that will be much lighter, reliable and durable. Combined with lighter chassis, tapered designs, aggressive tracks and increased flotation in fresh snow, the new engines make believe that the perfect machine is about to be produced. Its overall weight of less than 200 kg will be another attractive characteristic. It’s a pretty big job!
Then, a large number of retired snowbirds will be able to come back and rediscover a very nice way to explore Québec in white via its snowmobile trail circuit and also to ride safely on logging roads towards the cottage.
Heavyweight is out of style. Long live lightweight.