Snowmobiles and their history

In ancient times hunters and reindeer herders used to move around on the fells on skis or dog-sleds in winter time. This was of course hard to do in deep snow and reindeer herders had to move around with their homes when they were out guarding the reindeer and could not return home every night because of the hard conditions. In the early twentieth century there were some inventors trying to invent a vehicle for snow conditions, but it was not until in 1954 as the American Polaris company presented the first snowmobile that the manufacturing of snowmobiles started. And that has change the life of reindeer herders; now the reindeer herders can return home every evening after checking on the reindeer. The invention of snowmobiles changed the lives in Lapland and it has also saved the reindeer husbandry until these days, because the younger generation is more interested in continuing as the conditions are not as hard as they used to be.

The first snowmobiles were large, multipassenger vehicles designed to help people get around during the long winter months. These snowmobiles made in the early 1950s were soon followed by the ones manufactured by the Canadian Joseph Armand Bombardier in 1959. Bombardier wanted to develop a fast, lightweight snowmobile that could carry one or two people. After many years of development and several prototypes of the lightweight snowmobile the first Bombardier snowmobile went on sale in 1959 and the first snowmobiles were actually brought to the north of Finland in 1962. Fifteen snowmobiles were brought to Inari in Lapland; one for the postman, one to a fisherman and the rest to some reindeer herders. From here the snowmobiles’ use spread also to other parts of Finland where there were needs to move easier on snow.

The Ski-Doo snowmobile was originally called the “Ski-Dog” because Bombardier meant it to be a practical vehicle to replace the dogsled for hunters and trappers in Canada. By an accident, a painter misinterpreted the name and painted “Ski-Doo” on the first prototype and Bombardier thought this would be a suitable name for the vehicle. Bombardier is considered the father of snowmobiling who began commercial production.
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The public soon discovered that those speedy vehicles that could zoom over snow were a lot of fun. Suddenly a new winter sport was born, centred in Quebec. In the first year, Bombardier sold 225 Ski-Doos; four years later, 8,210 were sold.

After the first snowmobile came to Finland in 19621 from Canada the popularity grew and the snowmobiles became a normal sight in the North of Finland on the fells. In these days you can see snowmobiles in wintertime parked on almost every property of Lapland; both in cities as in the countryside. This lead later to the need to pass laws that stipulated how to move with this vehicle on the roads. You are not allowed to drive the snowmobile on car roads; only on marked snowmobile ways and in the forest owned by the state of Finland or on lakes and rivers in Lapland. You are not allowed without permission to drive on private estate with snowmobile.

Just eight years after Joseph Armand Bombardier began to mass-produce Ski-Doo snowmobiles, Velsa Oy began manufacturing Lynx snowmobiles in Kurikka in Finland; in 1987 his business was acquired by the company and moved to Rovaniemi in Lapland and is still working here. See the home page of the factory BRD Finland.

After Joseph-Armand Bombardier’s initial successful tests of the Ski-Dog, it soon proved that this new snowmobile made riding fun. Individual snowmobiles gave people of isolated communities the opportunities of a new form of outdoor recreation. People that once sat dormant throughout winter were now given the opportunity in more outdoor activities.The snowmobile helped people come to embrace the winter. And today it is a great tourist attraction for all ages to come to Lapland and go on snowmobile excursions. There are even small snowmobiles for kids to drive in the Santa Claus Village in Napapiirin moottorikelkkapuisto.

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This winter, in February 7th, 2014, the exhibition of snowmobile history was opened at Santa Claus Village by the Arctic Circle outside Rovaniemi in Santa’s House of Snowmobiles. The exhibition offers the visitor information on snowmobiles and their technological development during these five decades beginning in the 1960s. The snowmobiles on show in the exhibition are all private property borrowed from owners all over Finland and the exhibition will change in May 1915. This first exhibition about snowmobiles is called “The stories of classic snowmobiles” and it is open every day of the year as well as all the other places at the Santa Claus Village.

In the exhibition you can see snowmobiles from five decades and you will be amazed about the development that have happened in the snowmobiles. The exhibition offers something for the whole family with even a snowmobile racing computer game for younger visitors.

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An odd version of snowmobile is the Swedish Larven, made by the Lenko Company of Östersund, from the 1960s until the end of the 1980s. It was a very small and basic design, with just an engine in the rear and a track. The driver sat on it and steered using skis on his feet.

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On my visit to the north of Russia in 2008 I could see these snowmobiles of old models from 1960s still in use for transactions of goods in the streets in the village I visited.

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Here is an example of a snowmobile of latest model from BRD Finland. There has been a development of technology here.

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The contemporary types of recreational riding forms are known as snowcross/racing, trail riding, freestyle, mountain climbing, boondocking, carving, ditchbanging and grass drags.

On March 29-30, 2014 there is a Snow star competition in Rovaniemi on the Mäntyvaara trotting arena with snowmobiles. The newest models from BRD are also on show there to lay your eyes on. The Snow star home page is unfortunately only in Finnish at the moment.

 

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