Snow in Science, Culture, and Climate


From pre-historic times onward, humans have sought easier ways to travel over snow. This has included using animals (horses, dogs) and eventually motors to do the work. As soon as motors were available, humans began to invent and build motorized vehicles to move over snow quickly, covering distances too long for human- or animal-powered travel in shorter amounts of time.

two men in a sleigh propelled by a giant suction turbine fan
This sleigh from the early 1900s was propelled by a “suction turbine” fan driven by a piston engine invented by Henri Coandă in Russia (Public Domain {{PD-US}})

The most common type of motorized over-snow vehicle in use today is the snowmobile, a one- or two-person, unenclosed vehicle propelled by a rear track system and steered by skis in the front. Multiple people have been credited with inventing the first “snowmobile.” During the late 1800s and the first half of the 20th century, various inventors and tinkerers from the US, Canada, Russia, and Sweden produced and patented versions of motorized over-snow vehicles that built upon and combined existing ideas and parts.

Two people riding a small yellow snowmobile
One of the first modern snowmobiles was the Bombardier Company’s “Ski-doo” by Bombardier, shown here in 1962. Photo from asplundhlr50 on Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-2.0)

Commercial models resembling modern snowmobiles appeared in the 1950s. By the 1970s, at least 100 companies were making snowmobiles (Musée J-Armand Bombardier, 2003), which remain popular for winter recreation and as a practical mode of transportation in remote areas, including many rural Alaskan communities. Other tracked, motorized over-snow vehicles play important roles in supporting recreation, research, and search and rescue today.

Our website is under construction. Please check back soon for more on the history of snowmobiling!