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Snowmobiles finally get the Tesla treatment



Picture this: You're a moose, peacefully munching on twigs in the snowy wilderness. Suddenly, a thunderous 700-pound machine, sounding like a vacuum cleaner with a chainsaw, charges towards you. What would you do? Cory Burrows, a snowmobiling guide, experienced this firsthand in the Rocky Mountains, prompting a rapid exit and an impromptu sprint behind a tree.


Fast forward to our meeting in Winter Park, Colorado, and Burrows is sharing a different tale. This time, the snowmobiles are electric, humming along as quietly as a refrigerator. "As far as I can tell, the moose don't pay attention to them," Burrows says, highlighting the evolving landscape of snowmobiling.


The traditional snowmobile, a winter essential in northern regions, is undergoing a green transformation. Fueled by environmental consciousness and U.S. national park emissions regulations, manufacturers are steering towards electric alternatives. BRP Inc., a Canadian powerhouse in motorsports, led the charge last year with electric models for tour operators, followed by consumer-oriented releases in February.


The Ski-Doo Expedition Electric, priced at US$17,000, signals a shift towards sustainability, albeit at a higher cost than its gasoline counterparts. Taiga Motors Corp., another Canadian player solely dedicated to electric snowmobiles, presents another option with impressive mileage per charge.


Surprisingly, electric snowmobiling faced skepticism just a few years ago. Taiga CEO Sam Bruneau compares their journey to Tesla's early days in the electric vehicle (EV) space. However, times are changing, and more competition looms on the horizon. Swedish startup Vidde Snow Mobility plans to deliver 1,000 electric sleds, while Polaris Inc., a Minnesota-based company, is developing its own battery-powered prototype.


Despite challenges like cold weather affecting battery performance and friction from snow, manufacturers are pushing the boundaries of innovation. BRP CEO José Boisjoli acknowledges the difficulty of electrifying snowmobiles but emphasizes the growing environmental awareness. To address range limitations, BRP employs design changes like smaller skis and shorter tracks.


Utility-focused EVs, like Polaris' electric Ranger XP Kinetic, have already found success in quieter applications, particularly among farmers. While these vehicles cater to specific needs, snowmobiling remains primarily recreational. The shift to electric power is gaining momentum, with BRP planning electric options across its entire vehicle lineup, including motorcycles, hydrofoils, boats, and all-terrain vehicles.


Electric snowmobiles not only align with green aspirations but also address noise and emissions concerns in national parks. Yellowstone, for instance, limits snowmobile visitation based on strict emissions and noise criteria.


However, the shift to electric isn't universally embraced within the snowmobiling community. Taiga's Bruneau acknowledges a 50-50 split among enthusiasts, with some resisting the move away from traditional, louder machines. Despite this resistance, Taiga reports nearly one-third of their retail orders come from first-time snowmobile buyers, indicating a potential expansion of the market.


In the snow-covered mountains of Colorado, the appeal of electric models is evident. BRP's Ski-Doos, compared to their noisy counterparts, produce a serene "shush" from gliding skis and a subtle "whir" from the tread. The instant torque and quiet operation provide a compelling alternative for both riders and the environment.


As we conclude our snowy adventure, Burrows leads the electric snowmobiles back to a lodge equipped with Level-2 chargers. Charging becomes a hassle-free experience, allowing for multiple daily tours without the need for refueling stops. The future of snowmobiling is steering towards sustainability, promising quieter, cleaner, and more efficient adventures in the pristine winter landscapes of Canada and beyond.


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