Stories tagged snowmobiles

Carl J.E. Eliason of Saynor, Wisconsin Standing Next to His Snowmobile Prototype
Carl J.E. Eliason of Saynor, Wisconsin Standing Next to His Snowmobile PrototypeCourtesy Carl Eliason Family
84 years ago from today, on November 22, 1927, the first U.S. patent for a snowmobile (No. 1,650,334) was awarded to Carl Eliason of Saynor, Wisconsin. Carl was an auto mechanic, blacksmith and general store owner, and he loved the outdoors. However, he struggled with a foot deformity that made it difficult to use skis or snowshoes. So he built a lightweight personal machine that could follow the narrow ski and snowshoe trails made by his friends. His "motor toboggan" had ski-like front runners controlled by a rope, a rear drive track fashioned with bicycle sprockets and chains, wooden cleats, and was powered by a 2.5-horsepower outboard motor.

Today, snowmobiling provides a winter recreational activity enjoyed by many worldwide. For years, snowmobiles had a history of noise pollution, high emissions, and poor fuel economy. However, with the implementation of the U.S. EPA's reduced emissions program phases scheduled for completion in 2012, and rising cost in fuel prices, snowmobile enthusiasts and manufacturers are now seeking ways to make snowmobiles more eco-friendly and fuel efficient. Two-stroke engines used in motorcycles, snowmobiles, chainsaws, and marine outboard motors are not as efficient as their four-stroke counterparts, but they are lighter, less complex, and easier to manufacture. Many groups are manufacturing exhaust trapping systems that dramatically reduce EPA-regulated emissions such as carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and NOx.

Peter Britanyak of the University of Idaho's Department of Mechanical Engineering prototyped the idea of Synchronous Charge Trapping (SCT) on a two-stroke snowmobile engine as part of his thesis for a masters degree. A second generation prototype was created by Team SHORT CIRCUIT of the University of Idaho, and a preliminary patent has been issued.

Other designs have been manufactured through the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Clean Snowmobile Challenge. In 2010, Minnesota-based manufacturer Polaris Industries teamed with University of Wisconsin-Madison to win the 2010 Clean Snowmobile Challenge. Next year, a record number of teams are expected to participate in the SAE 2012 Snowmobile Challenge, scheduled for March 5-10, 2012 at the Keweenaw Research Center of Michigan Technological University.

And research from snowmobiles and off-road vehicles is being applied to space exploration as well. Earlier this year, Quebec-based manufacturer Bombardier Recreational Products Inc. (BRP) announced that they are contributing to Canadian exploration programs of the moon and Mars. BRP will develop the chassis and locomotion systems for a Lunar Exploration Light Rover and a Mars Exploration Science Rover, from contracts awarded by the Canadian Space Agency.

Nov
04
2008

Yellowstone snowmobiles: A guide leads a pack of snowmobiles through Yellowstone National Park on a recent winter trip.
Yellowstone snowmobiles: A guide leads a pack of snowmobiles through Yellowstone National Park on a recent winter trip.Courtesy National Park Service
A federal judge is working through proposals that would lower the number of snowmobiles that can zip through Yellowstone National Park each year. And as seems to be the case with conflicting ideas over uses of public recreational lands, there are lots of ideas on what the optimum level should be. You can get the full details here.

The newest plan would lower the current snowmobile limits by 40 percent, or 318 snowmobiles a day. That’s a little more than the average of 294 snowmobiles per day the park saw last year, but significantly lower than the 557 that were in the highest daily number recorded last winter.

Pristine snow blanket: Environmental purists want winter in Yellowstone to look more like this without snowmobile noise, exhaust or tracks.
Pristine snow blanket: Environmental purists want winter in Yellowstone to look more like this without snowmobile noise, exhaust or tracks.Courtesy Apollomelos
The judge has been drawn into the debate between environmentalists who want no or minimal snowmobile presence in the park versus snowmobile enthusiasts who enjoy motoring through the picturesque park. Snowmobile limits for the park haven’t been adjusted in 28 years.

What role, if any, do you think snowmobiles should have in a national park like Yellowstone? Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.

Jan
16
2007

Snowmobiling: With the late appearance of winter, snowmobiles are finally zooming around. And some are going through the water as their drivers try to skip them over lakes and rivers.
Snowmobiling: With the late appearance of winter, snowmobiles are finally zooming around. And some are going through the water as their drivers try to skip them over lakes and rivers.

It’s finally getting into real winter conditions here in Minnesota, but that still doesn’t mean it’s winter as normal.

Sunday’s snowfall led to three snowmobile crashes on lakes where drivers went through thin ice or open water. In one case, the snowmobile driver died. According to the press accounts, many snowmobile drivers like to “skip” their machines over open water. It got me wondering how this actually works.

It’s actually much like how a stone that is thrown at the right angle and speed skips across open water. Checking the web for snowmobile sites, I found out the specific details.

The snowmobile skip formula works this way: In order to skip, the snowmobile must be going at least 5 mph for every 150 lbs. of vehicle (or fraction thereof). For example, if a snowmobile and rider weighed 780 lbs., it would have to be going at least 30 mph to skip. The distance of water a snowmobile can cross is 2", plus 1/2" for every 5 mph over the minimum skip-speed. If the above-mentioned snowmobile was going 45 mph, it could cross 3 1/2" of water; at 75 mph, it could cross 6 1/2" of open water. There’s also friction, or drag, involved in this formula. A snowmobile decelerates 5 mph for every inch (or fraction) of water it "skips." The snowmobile above, crossing 6-1/2" inches of water at 75 mph, would be going only 40 mph when it got to the other side.

A snowmobile cannot change direction while "skipping" -- it can only go in a straight line. If a snowmobile doesn't make it across the open water, it sinks. It only takes one second for a snowmobile to sink to the bottom of a lake or river.

So, as they say on all the stunt shows, don’t try this at home….or on a lake near your home. Across the U.S. and Canada each winter about 50 people die from snowmobiles crashing and sinking into frigid waters.

Interestingly, a graduate from the University of Minnesota is developing a way to minimize the deaths of snowmobilers falling through the ice. John Weinel is now working with university students to come up with an automatic floatation device that could deploy from a snowmobile, much like an airbag in a car, when a snowmobile crashes into water. That work has already led to floatation equipment law enforcement officers can use at the scene a snowmobile water crash to help keep victims at the surface until better equipped rescuers can get to the scene.

Of course, the best thing to do if you're driving a snowmobile is to avoid driving it anywhere there is a chance to be open or thin ice. You and your snowmobile will be able to get around better and happier if you never go sinking into chilly water.