YOU may be lamenting all that white stuff as you shovel your driveway, but thousands of Manitoba snowmobile enthusiasts are jumping for joy.
The riders aren’t the only ones happy about all this snow, according to Snoman Inc., the governing body of snowmobiling in Manitoba. Many local businesses also profit substantially from snowmobiling. Since 1994, it’s estimated that the economic benefit of snowmobiling in Manitoba has amounted to more than $2 billion.
My, how things have changed. In the early days of snowmobiling, the machines were little more than a sled with a pair of skis up front, a track on the rear, a small engine and a crude seat for the operator.
Today, the modern snowmobile is an engineering masterpiece that would look just as much at home traversing the surface of the moon as running across Lake Winnipeg.
According to Wikipedia, the first U.S. patent for a motorized snow-machine using a track in the rear and skis up front was issued to Ray H. Muscott of Waters, Michigan, on June 27, 1916. Not long after this patent was issued, Ford Model T cars and trucks with the undercarriages replaced with tracks and skis began popping up and were popular for rural mail delivery. These converted cars, known as Snowflyers, were also extremely popular in northern Canada.
Although others have tried to lay claim to the invention, the first person to successfully design and market the modern snowmobile was Canadian inventor and businessman Joseph-Armand Bombardier from Quebec. Bombardier, with his Ski-Doo brand, is widely considered the father of snowmobiling. He was granted a Canadian patent in 1960 and a U.S. patent in 1962 for his endless track vehicle. The snowmobile was born.
The first snowmobiles designed for recreational use featured tiny two-stroke engines that only produced about 10 horsepower. The two-stroke engine continued to dominate the market for many years, but more efficient and cleaner running four-stroke engines that can make as much as 150 horsepower have flooded the market in recent years.
When Bombardier died of cancer at the age of 56 in 1964, his company was producing around 8,000 snowmobiles per year. To say his invention has flourished would be a considerable understatement. It has skyrocketed.
In the traditional snowmobile seasonal months from January through March of this year, 48,689 snowmobiles were sold in the U.S. and 40,165 were sold in Canada, according to Ed Klim, president of the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Group, (ISMA). Sales in Europe and Russia accounted for another 40,223 machines, so nearly 130,000 new snowmobiles were sold worldwide last season in just three months.
More than 1.4 million snowmobiles were also registered in the U.S. last season, and more than 600,000 were registered here in Canada. When you add the estimated 700,000 machines registered overseas, the number climbs to more than 2.7 million people around the globe riding snowmobiles. ISMA also says the average snowmobile rider is 41 years’ old and rides about 1,600 kilometres each winter.
Today, the Ski-Doo brand that Bombardier made famous continues to be very popular and is one of our nation’s premier exports. But there are also snowmobiles manufactured by American companies such as Arctic-Cat and Polaris, as well as Japanese manufacturer Yamaha.
Regardless of which brand you choose, today’s snowmobile is a marvel of modern engineering that is both reliable and fun. These versatile machines enable those of us living in winter climates to get outside and enjoy the beautiful scenery and share in some family fun.
Snowmobile clubs across the province are working hard grooming trails for a winter of fun as we speak. Just remember: Ride safe, and stay on the trails!