The world of snowmobiling has come a long way since 1959, when Joseph A. Bombardier brought the modern snowmobile into the world. The “do-it-all” snowmobile of the 1960s and 1970s is well and truly a thing of the past, as more and more specialized models have appeared. In fact, one of the segments that has been particularly transformed is that of utility snowmobiles.
At its core, the utility snowmobile is a workhorse. Its practical and pragmatic mandate often involves navigating in loose snow, pulling a load or circulating in restricted areas. Here is an overview of the characteristics generally common to this type of snowmobile:
- The relatively long tracks, and sometimes oversized in width, make it possible to float on ungroomed snow;
- The skis are generally wide, always with the aim of ensuring a better range;
- The gap between the skis is usually narrow to improve maneuverability as well as to facilitate movement in tight areas;
- Calibrating the clutches allows for smooth starts, which helps prevent getting stuck;
- The cooling system is suitable for driving at low speeds for extended periods. Some models, intended for more intensive use, are even equipped with a radiator and a fan;
- Some models are equipped with a gearbox, which notably offers the choice of two forward speeds, the overdrive speed (low) proving particularly useful when the time comes to pull a load;
- Reverse is either electronic or mechanical, depending on engine type, niche, and price of the snowmobile;
- Some snowmobiles are equipped with a hinge in the rear portion of the rear suspension, the tilting of which facilitates and optimizes the use of reverse gear in deep snow;
- Storage space is provided (luggage racks, boxes or attachment systems on the rear tunnel to facilitate the use of accessories).
Two types of engines are used in modern utility snowmobiles: two-stroke and four-stroke. Two-stroke engines have come a long way. Today, with a few exceptions, these are fuel injected, the majority being advanced technology, either semi-direct or direct injection intake. Cleaner and more reliable, they consume a fraction of the gasoline and oil of older versions.
The four-stroke engine is distinguished by its reliability, longevity and cleanliness (including the complete absence of smoke and odors). In general, this engine is also smoother and quieter, although it is also heavier, complex and generally expensive.
The utility snowmobile segment is not homogeneous and various sub-segments have emerged over the years. The first niche, which we could call “pure utilities”, consists of models designed with virtually no concessions for other uses or applications. These are generally more compact and lightweight, with low-power engines and features chosen to ensure optimum performance in their utility vocation.
Touring-utility models, also suitable for trail rides, are more versatile and can often carry a passenger. We are therefore talking about standard equipment such as a double bench, a high windshield, more powerful engines and more sophisticated and versatile suspensions. Finally, snowmobiles in the sport-utility segment are aimed at users who also want to enjoy adrenaline rushes in deep snow. These are equipped with powerful engines, aggressive tracks and high-performance, adjustable suspensions.
The big four manufacturers (Arctic Cat, Polaris, Ski-Doo and Yamaha) are all active in the utility snowmobile market, although their participation rates vary widely. The mutual supply agreement that exists between Arctic Cat (en.arcticcat.txtsv.com) and Yamaha (www.yamaha-motor.ca/en) since the introduction of the 2014 models has resulted in both manufacturers each offering their own version of the same three utility models, one in each of the three sub-segments.
Polaris(snowmobiles.polaris.com/fr-ca), for its part, offers a diversified range that starts with entry-level models (Indy Adventure and Voyageur) propowered by a 550cc twin-cylinder two-stroke engine 550cc fan cooled and carburetor powered. At the other end, we find the imposing Titan (touring-utility segment), offered this year for the first time with a four-stroke engine.
Arguably the leader in the segment, Ski-Doo (www.ski-doo.com/ca/en) offers the most diverse range, with numerous models in all sub-segments, as well as an array of engine choices. Ski-Doo covers all the bases, from the Tundra, pure light utility, hyperfunctional and at a low price, to the Expedition, possibly the most versatile family of snowmobiles on the market.
The electric snowmobile?
No one can ignore the increasingly rapid migration of road vehicles to electric motors, but what about snowmobiles? Taiga Motors (www.taigamotors.com/en-CA), a Quebec company, proudly holds the title of first manufacturer to market an electric snowmobile. Among its model range is the Nomad, a 100% electric utility snowmobile.
Its power of 90 hp, its autonomy of 100 km and its towing capacity of 510 kg make the Nomad a perfect snowmobile for many users. It should be noted that the largest snowmobile manufacturer in the world, BRP, recently announced its desire to introduce an electric snowmobile no later than 2026. A file to follow!