Take a trip to Alaska by snowmobile… alone… without a support van laden down with parts? You must be kidding! No one in their right mind would even think of such a thing!
Fifteen years ago, even 10 years ago, this would have been true. But, now, in 1980, four people already have done it. And, one, Tony Lenzini, aboard a Ski-Doo Citation 4500, did it alone. The three from Michigan, who left from Fairbanks, Alaska, aboard Yamaha SR-Vs, had the advantage of each other’s company. But, none of them have visited a psycho ward lately. And, all of the men were successful. Why?
Most likely it was because snowmobiles are about as reliable and durable as the family car. And in some areas of the snowbelt, snowmobiles are just that . . . snow cars.
Heading the lists of improvements is what lies under your machine’s cowling… the engine. Once upon a time snowmobile engines basically were modified designs of industrial pump and generator engines. Described by one snowmobile engineer as a “lot of junk,” these early engines just weren’t made with the snowmobile in mind. In contrast, today’s engines are built to perform reliably in cold weather — both above and below the freezing mark. Two reasons are technological advancements in carburetion and ignition.
If you’ve been around snowmobiling for a few years, you undoubtedly remember those old “pumper” designs on the old single cylinder thumpers.
Those old carburetors had integral fuel pumps, of the diaphragm variety, which tended to vapor lock and clog with dirt. Simple in design, they were too sensitive to heat and dirt.
With the advent of the Mikuni-style slide valve carburetor and separate fuel pumps, which could be relocated to avoid high underhood temperatures, came improved starting, a minimum of vapor locking and better overall performance. At the same time, the butterfly style carburetor was redesigned to be more efficient under all conditions. So what you got was a separate fuel pump, larger fuel passages, and a float bowl reservoir that eliminated the dreaded vapor lock.
At the same time, electronic ignitions came into vogue, replacing those hit-or-miss mechanical point settings. Capacitor discharge ignitions (CDI) kick out more voltage for more efficient starting and better burning of the fuel charge in the cylinders. Since there are no moving points or condensers to replace or adjust, maintenance is minimal . . . just like a car.
While there are more liquid-cooled machines available today, the fan-cooled motors have been redesigned to give greater cooling capacity through improvements in fans, ducting, and engine placement. Underhood temperatures have been reduced by creating smoother airflow through the engine compartment. This not only has added miles and hours to the motor, but increased belt life and other underhood components. Gone are the days of just arbitrarily cutting holes in the hood. Any ducts in the cowl, entrance or exit, reflect careful engineering decisions that serve a specific purpose.
While drive belts last longer due to being run in cooler zones of operation, they also have been able to last upwards of a thousand miles or better due to better engineering. One important step in the drive belt’s evolution was the use of Fiber B in the composition. Instead of having to buy a case of drive belts, most modern day snowmobilers buy a single spare . . . and frequently never have to use it.
Still another contribution to drive belt life is the advanced engineering of every snowmobile manufacturer’s drive and driven clutches. The early day clutch required almost daily maintenance. Today’s versions have self-lubricating parts and self-aligning characteristics to keep the drive belt properly aligned in the drivetrain. Engagement speeds, due to the new technology in engines, are at reduced levels in most family machines and result in easier, less strained take-offs. All these things mean longer life for all powertrain components, not just extended belt life.
Of the 1981 snowmobiles available, about 58 percent will be offered with oil injection. Pioneered by Yamaha, oil injection takes the hassle out of refueling. Pull up to the pump and just fill ‘er up. Easy. Just like owning a car. Oil and gas are mixed automatically and varied according to the needs of the engine — an automatically adjusted ratio for idling and another for wide open throttle.
Snowmobile oils are also improved. They have been scientifically engineered to reduce combustion deposits, increase fuel efficiency, and help the engine run both cleaner and cooler.
Running smoother is the purpose of the new suspension systems. Gone are the classic bogie wheel suspensions in the family and high performance models. In fact, not only are slide suspensions the order of the day, but long travel slide suspensions have taken a fast hold on the snowmobile market. Most modern snowmobile suspensions feature about five inches of mogul-smoothing travel. That’s just at the sled’s back end.
At the front of today’s advanced snowmobiles are all kinds of sophisticated finery. Leafspring front ends still hold the corner on the front suspension systems, but despite the advancements of smoother leafsprings and shock dampened assistance, automotive style front ends are coming into vogue. There are swing arm designs like the Arctic Trail Cat, formula-type strut systems like that found on the top line Polaris Indy series, and telescoping strut systems used on the Yamaha SR-V and all new SRX. Plus, expect to see a couple of more designs coming your way in the next few months. The SR-V’s front end endured thousands of miles in the Fairbanks to Michigan trek of three diehard Michigan snowmobilers.
Along with the advances in suspension design have come an equally important advance in seating. Instead of the Neanderthal approach to seating, an inch of prehistoric foam and a vinyl cover, comes scientifically designed multi-layered foam seats. There is a stiff inner foam sandwiched around a couple other layers of progressively softer foam. This advance means less, it any, shock to your all important. and constantly pampered. butt end. You new snowmobilers have gained at us old-timers’ expense, but we enjoy the new benefits, too.
Chassis design, sometimes a haphazard thing, has been vastly improved to give you better handling, lower centers of gravity, and vastly improved cornering ability. All together, the new designs translate directly into less tiring rides and more time to put on extra miles. “Snow-ability” that’s the key term to today’s machines. They have been designed with that aspect of snowmobiling in mind.
Materials in building today’s machines have gone from iron to aluminum. Aircraft technology is frequently used in building up today’s machinery. High strength, low alloy steels are commonplace. Fiberglass and shock resisting plastics are frequently used in constructing the modern day snowmobile. All these advances make the sled lighter, safer and more comfortable. And durable. And reliable.
Snowmobiling has come a long way.

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