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.
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.


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.





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.


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.



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


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.


Snowmobile safaris for beginners

As you visit Lapland and Rovaniemi you can see them everywhere. The snowmobiles. Would not that be nice to test? A snowmobile ride is easy to attend even for beginners. You have to have a driver’s licence for cars, though. You just join one of the guided tours sold by the safari companies in Rovaniemi or in other places in Lapland. One of the biggest is Lapland safaris. Others are Safartica and Arctic circle snowmobile park. They all arrange unforgettable snowmobile safaris during the winter, both for beginners but also for more adventurous and experienced customers. You can choose just a snowmobile ride, but it is also nice to visit a reindeer farm or a husky farm or even go on a guided ice-fishing safari to a wilderness lake. IMG_0491

Snowmobiles are manufactured in Rovaniemi, by the BRP Finland Oy company. Two snowmobile brands manufactured in Rovaniemi are Lynx and SkiDoo.



The safaris I have attended have started from the shore of the frozen river Kemijoki in the city center of Rovaniemi. Once I went on a safari by snowmobile to a reindeer farm and once by snowmobile on an ice-fishing trip.

The first thing (after booking and paying, of course) is to get the suitable outfits. You actually do not need any of your own, just come as you are, and the safari company provides you with everything needed to keep you warm and safe on a snowmobile safari. There are dresses, boots, gloves, balaclavas, socks and scarves for every size and on top of everything you get a helmet to protect you from head damages in case something goes wrong.

IMG_5160After that the group (2-15 persons) gathers outside the safari company and you get the first look at the huge snowmobile parking of hundreds of snowmobiles. The tour guide presents himself (or herself) and after that the training begins. The guide sorts out who is the beginner and who has done snowmobiling before. You have either ordered a trip with an own snowmobile or you have chosen to share it with someone. You can sit two persons on one snowmobile. You will get to know the important hand signs that are used during the trip for slowing down, stopping and continuing again. There will be one guide in the lead and one guide follows in the end of the row. They start up the engines of the snowmobiles and the safari can start.

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In the beginning the snowmobiles move slowly out on the ice of the river Kemijoki and out there on the ice, the guide starts speeding up a bit. He follows up how the group joins him and takes care of the beginners. It is really not hard to drive a snowmobile even if it is your first time. After a while the tour guide makes the row of snowmobiles slow down and stop. Just to check everyone is ok and everything works as supposed. There is also the possibility to switch driver if you are two on one snowmobile.

An ice fishing safari goes to a wilderness lake. The safari heads north on a marked snowmobile trail that takes you along the frozen river Ounasjoki and through snowy forests up into the hills, where you can admire the beautiful surrounding countryside of Lapland. You follow the trail through white, snow-covered fields and finally arrive at a small wilderness lake.

IMG_5176On the ice-fishing safari the tour guide has all the equipment needed and he guides you how to make your hole and start fishing. Catch is not guaranteed, but most likely for patient fishermen. Anyway you can enjoy the wilderness and the beautiful nature around you.



A reindeer farm safari goes south from the center of Rovaniemi, following official snowmobile trails, via a couple of small lakes and through the forest to the farm.

After a safe and nice trip you will arrive to the goal. On a reindeer farm you will meet the owner and he or she will tell you about the reindeer and you can go on a short reindeer drive.




The safaris also includes warm beverages by the fireplace and also possibilities to fry your sausages or eat a sandwich. You can even prepare the catch by the open fire. Some customers prefer to bring their caught fish to their hotel and have it prepared in the hotel kitchen for dinner.



The return to Rovaniemi is usually a faster ride, as the customers have learned how to ride the snowmobile and many of course also want to test and speed it up a bit. On the open ice of the river there is safe to speed it up, but through the forest you better follow the tour guide’s advice and he knows how to ride safe there.