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Factors affecting a snowmobile’s speed

Snowmobiles, as their name implies, are used on snow during winter, especially around winter resorts or areas where snowy mountains are practically part of the location. However, you can also use snowmobiles on dry terrain, although we wouldn’t necessarily recommend that. The thing is, snowmobiles, like any other vehicle, are made for specific purposes.

Snow density and wind direction are the first major factors to take into consideration when riding a snowmobile. Afterward, what matters most is engine size, weight, aerodynamics, and especially the driver’s skill. No beginner can push a Lamborghini to its max without crashing, and the same goes for snowmobiles as well.

If all the proper conditions are met, a snowmobile can easily reach speeds of up to 150 miles per hour. The record for the fastest snowmobile speed up to date is 320 mph, but don’t expect to reach that speed unless you’re riding down a very steep slope and unless you’re an extremely experimented snowmobile rider.


Terrain and temperature

If you ride in deep snow, your speed will be much slower than when riding on thick ice. Also, consider that if snow levels are too low and the grass can be seen rising above, your speed will also be affected. Getting the perfect terrain type can be very difficult depending on where you live and on the time of the year you choose to ride on your snowmobile.

If you’re truly daring, you can even ride your snowmobile in shallow water as long as the vehicle has enough horsepower to spare. But be warned that water exerts much more resistance than snow and ice combined, so you might find yourself stuck or sinking, which will inevitably drown your snowmobile. There’s no fun in that and we wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re a pro.

As for temperature, snowmobile engines commonly run much better at lower temperatures. This might seem like a no-brainer, but there have been reports of people trying to start snowmobiles during the summer or in the desert, so it’s better to clear this up before others get such a bright idea.


The evolution of snowmobiles

Like with many modern amenities and vehicles, the snowmobile’s story starts in the 20th century. Harold Kalenze was the first one to try out such an ingenious design. He built a snowmobile with a propeller which let people slide down on ice more easily than with a traditional sled.

Later, in 1911, you could already see snowmobiles with steering wheels that could accommodate two people. Then Ray Muscott came up with a design for the snowmobile that also included an engine, which made it easy for people to also go up slopes, not just down. 

This was the first recorded time when these machines were given the name “snowmobiles”, as they had been previously named “snow flyers”. Skis and tracks were slowly replacing undercarriages, and apart from safety concerns, the vehicle would go on to evolve technically, from horsepower to design and engineering.

However, despite all of these improvements, snowmobiles wouldn’t become massively adopted until 1935, and even then people still had their doubts about these vehicles. With only 10 horsepower, you can imagine how limited the speed was back in the day. Only in 1959 did people finally begin to trust and try snowmobiles regularly.


Snowmobiles today

In this day and age, some snowmobiles have up to 200 horsepower, making them seem lightyears ahead of the early days. You can probably imagine how many engineers it took to perfect these vehicles and how much research and development was put into crafting the perfect system to allow snowmobiles to go… well, through the snow.

Today’s snowmobiles, however, can be attributed to one man’s ingenious mind: Carl Eliasson. He first put out 40 snowmobile prototypes, and Finland loved them so much that they ordered 200, which forced him to sell the patent because he couldn’t keep up with the high demand. You can imagine why Finland wanted to buy so many. Their weather is perfect for snowmobiles.

Snowmobiles, apart from their recreational purpose, began being used as a viable transportation method for mailmen and other essential workers in northern countries. Nowadays, snowmobiles are still used as such in those countries, but their main focus is on adrenaline-inducing winter sports.

In any case, one cannot overstate the value of these vehicles in countries where snow and ice are present almost year-round. Smaller frames and higher speeds can be achieved by modern snowmobiles. As we stated earlier, some models can even go up to an impressive 320 mph down a slope if driven by a professional snowmobile rider.


Parts of a modern snowmobile

To get a better understanding of how contemporary snowmobiles work, you need to know what each part does and why it is essential for the experience. The first snowmobiles didn’t have such commodities, so looking back at them and how much they have evolved over the years is imperative for us to truly appreciate how far vehicular engineering has come.

Unlike steering wheels on the old models, the modern snowmobiles have handlebars, which allow you to feel more in control when on ice. They simply feel more natural and make the engagement with the trail even more immersive. Handlebars will always feel better for those seeking adrenaline. If you ride both cars and motorcycles, you know what it’s like.

The throttle powers the driveshaft and makes the rubberized track move forward, which significantly improves speed and handling in dense snow. And speaking of snow, the windshield is yet another component that wasn’t found on old models. When you’re riding at high speeds, the windshield is more than just a necessity. It keeps you safe from freezing.

Headlights. Yes, headlights. Younger people probably can’t imagine any vehicle without them, but this was the case with older snowmobiles. We don’t need to tell you why headlights are important. 

Furthermore, if you want to check the status of the engine, you can now just pop the hood open and fix it yourself. You couldn’t do this on older models, as they needed to be disassembled to access the interior components.


Can snowmobiles evolve even further?

If you think that snowmobiles can’t possibly evolve further past this point, just look at how much cars and motorcycles have evolved over the last 15 years. For example, just recently, Taiga Motors revealed that they’re working on a brand new electric snowmobile concept to keep up with ever-demanding earth-friendly production.

But how will an electric snowmobile handle low temperatures? Only the future will be able to tell. They probably already have a solution to this problem. As you might know, electric batteries tend to fail in harsh weather conditions, so the future models will probably have a slightly different architecture overall to keep the components warm enough.

This begs the question – is it possible that electric snowmobiles will outnumber the modern snowmobile somewhere in the following five years? We don’t know, but we’re sure looking forward to testing the new vehicles when they reach the consumer market. 

Chassis refinement is also in the works, so in the next few years, we might see narrower snowmobiles that can still deliver the high speeds that thrill-seekers want. One more possibility is that we will see hybrid snowmobiles, just like we see with cars right now. But this is all just mere speculation at this point, so we will have to wait.

Final thoughts

To reiterate, most snowmobiles can reach up to 150 mph, while some more sporty models can even reach 320 mph down a steep slope. However, this all depends on the weather, how much snow versus ice you’re dealing with, incline, and how professional the driver is. If you want to take your snowmobile experience to the next level, invest in some lessons.

Also, don’t cheap out on buying better models. As with cars, motorcycles, and all other vehicles, the price usually reflects the quality. Good luck with your winter adventures!


Top speeds of the most popular snowmobile models

Over the past decades, snowmobile horsepower has only gone up, and the days when these vehicles were known to be slow are long gone since the latest models are very fast and require a lot of skill to master. Below, we will take a look at the top brand currently on the market to answer the question of just how fast can a snowmobile go?

Let’s start with the Yamaha Sidewinder SRX LE, which is currently the world’s fastest production snowmobile. The snowmobile is known not only for its extreme speed but also for its gorgeous looks. There have been reports of the Yamaha Sidewinder top speed being over 120 mph, but it can go even faster when running on ice, for example.

The fastest snowmobile from Polaris is the XCR 800. This model has a unique look, being slightly shorter and narrower than models from other brands. The Polaris XCR 800 top speed is about 106 mph when riding on a snow-covered runway.

Our next look is at Canada’s Ski-Doo brand, which is owned by Bombardier Recreational Products, the leader in two-stroke technology. The MXZ 800 is the fastest snowmobile in the world, along with the Yamaha Sidewinder SRX L. The Ski-Doo MXZ 800 top speed is 128 mph.

Next on our list is Arctic Cat with its ZR 9000 model that comes with 200 horsepower. It is the brand’s fiercest and fastest snowmobile, and customers have reported that riding it is a true joy. We’re here to talk about speed, so let’s cut to the chase.

There are not a lot of reports about what the Arctic Cat ZR 9000 top speed is, but judging from what’s under the hood, we expect similar results to the Yamaha’s and Ski-Doo’s top models if used in the same terrain and weather conditions.

The ZR 9000 model is powered by the same motor found in the Arctic Cat’s famous Thundercat. The 2017 Thundercat top speed is reported to be 122 mph on a runway that consisted of ice with windblown patches of snow on it.

This is just a taste of what the market has to offer since every year new models are released that are cheaper, more efficient, and capable of reaching higher speeds than their predecessors.

Nowadays, high-performance sports models, such as the ones on this list, can reach an average speed of 110 to 120 mph. Entry-level models, on the other hand, generally will go as fast as 70 to 90 mph.

What’s important to remember is that these figures reflect the speed of the snowmobile under ideal conditions. Even the fastest 1200 cc snowmobile won’t be able to reach the advertised speeds if it is riding on a runway with low snow levels.

Speed limits

Snowmobile ratings can indeed be very impressive nowadays, but this doesn’t mean that you should push the vehicle to its limits. While there is no specific speed limit that you need to follow, some states have rules that dictate how fast you can go on a specific trail.

This is why you should take the time to research if your state or the state you plan to travel to has any laws regarding specific or average speed limits. The speed limit can also be dependent on the trail, with some being stricter than others. New Hampshire, for example, has a speed limit of 45mph while Maine has none.

It is crucial to respect the speed limit since not only doing otherwise can result in legal action, but it can also be dangerous for the other person riding on the trail and yourself. Even in states without a speed limit, law enforcement officers can still ticket fast riders.

In most states, the law calls for a speed that is not greater than what is reasonable on the existing conditions. What does this mean? It means that people are expected to be sensible and ride slowly when it’s snowing heavily and visibility is low or when riding in snow or trails that don’t allow a lot of mobility.


Does being the fastest still matter?

While it is safe to say that the average snowmobile will only get faster as years go by and advancements in engineering are made, many riders ask if being the fastest is the most important factor when purchasing a snowmobile.

Back in the 1970s, when this sport was at its peak, being the fastest was the focus on both the riders and the manufacturers making the snowmobile. At that time, the factories were in a race of their own, competing to produce the fastest machine that technology allowed. The increase in snowmobiles engine displacement and horsepower was very impressive.

This trend continued until the 2000s when something seemed to change. The change occurred most likely because of less interest from spectators in this sport, and without it, OEMs seemed to focus less on drag races when designing the next best snowmobile.

Nowadays, OEMs and customers alike seem less interested in what the fastest snowmobile is and are more interested in other features, such as crossover and mountain sleds, 4-stroke engines vs. 2-stroke engines, rider-forward to let the rider stand up, and the like.

Change is the only constant, and this seems to be true for the snowmobile industry as well. Judging by the recent trend, it is safe to say that speed is no longer the top priority for manufacturers and customers. 

There’s also the fact that when you’re focusing on speed in production snowmobiles, you risk sacrificing ride quality, bump compliance, and handling. With that in mind, it helps explain why in the last years we haven’t seen the same impressive bump in speed.

Most people nowadays use their snowmobile to travel from point A to point B, and in this case, handling, comfort, and safety are much more important than speed. There may be the occasional race with friends, but even then, the focus seems to be on having fun and not necessarily on being the fastest.

It is still not clear what the future of drag racing is for snowmobiles, but judging by recent trends, being the fastest doesn’t seem to be the priority for most snowmobile riders anymore.




A passionate admirer of all-leather Harley merchandise, Irina can help readers better understand the world of motorcycles. From the latest fashion trends to trip ideas for your next bike vacay, you will find everything you need to know about your two-wheel passion on this website.

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