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Engineers tinker with an electric snowmobile

Brief by Allen Best

Recreation – February 2009 – Colorado Central Magazine

Two of the raps against snowmobiles are smell and noise. Both problems are eliminated with a new electric-powered prototype that has been tested in Greenland.

“It’s a long way from being a commercially-built product, but for us it’s something worth spending money on,” said Craig Beattie, spokesman for Canadian Snowmobile Adventures, a tour outfitter that gave $24,000 for research of the snowmobile, called Electric Silence. The prototype was assembled by an engineering team at Montreal’s McGill University.

The snowmobile as currently configured isn’t going to put Arctic Cat out of business. The model has a maximum range of 16 kilometers (about 10 miles) and requires $5,000 in batteries.

It won’t be used for backcountry trips and deep powder, but there is great potential for short, predictable trips, Beattie told Pique Newsmagazine.

Canadian Snowmobile Adventures also sees potential to expand into areas where snowmobiles are currently barred, including some national parks in the United States and Europe.

The outfitter has already replaced its fleet of high-polluting two-stroke engines with the quieter four-stroke machines that are 30 percent more fuel efficient.

But quiet snowmobiles might present new problems when using the same terrain as slow-moving skiers and snowshoers. What will happen if quiet snowmobiles become as ubiquitous as jet skis at popular beaches, zipping here and there without their annoying roar?

Although snowmobile noise might madden other backcountry users, it gives vulnerable pedestrians and wildlife plenty of time to get out of the way.