A Montreal company is set to release the world's first electric snowmobile in 2019, and even wiggle-turning hippies are taking note. Snowmobiles have long been a niche access tool for backcountry skiers, but if you believe that climate change threatens the snow we slide upon, riding one has been a fairly counterproductive practice, until now.
By some accounts, one two-stroke snowmobile (which also spits unburned oil into the snowpack because it's mixed and burned directly in the fuel) can produce as much air pollution in one day as a car does in six months. In reality, it's different with every machine. But even drastically improved, modern E-TEC (electronically fuel injected) snowmobiles aren't clean. A 2018 Arctic Cat M8000 produces 707.4 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour, according to the EPA. A 2018 Subaru Forester produces 144.6—five times less. The International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association says there are about 1.8 million snowmobiles in North America, and most of those aren't modern.
Taiga Motors, which sprung from a McGill University student project, has now built a machine with no emissions. Its TS2 model is light (under 500 pounds), will go 60 miles to a full charge, and can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in only three seconds. It'll charge in two hours on a home plug, or you can get it up to 80 percent in 20 minutes on a DC fast charger. There's almost no maintenance for up to 30,000 miles.
"It outperforms any E-TEC 800 motor," says Taiga's Sam Bruneau.
Kertis Broza owns Infinite Powersports in Revelstoke, BC, and is one of the few people to have tried the TS2 in a mountain setting.
"Just to go out and ride for the day, they're not quite there yet with the battery life," he says. "That 60 miles is on a flat, groomed trail. For breaking trail in powder, it takes so much more power. It would still be great for someone to access a cabin for a day. I'm still really positive about it."
Broza says the suspension design and other mountain-specific features are still being tweaked, but are very close. He'd consider renting and selling them soon. He also admits, "Sixty miles is a big day." Bruneau, for his part, says more than 50 percent of snowmobilers go less than 60 miles per day. For skiers, it's no doubt even less still. And if you're worried about lithium ion being prone to cold while overnighting somewhere deep, this battery is designed for Arctic conditions, and won't lose more than 5 percent of its charge.
Broza sees industrial applications as Taiga's best entry point. The company agrees, and dropped off its first test machines this past March with Parks Canada, and Whistler Blackcomb—now part of the Vail Resorts franchise.
"We have a goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2030, and working to reduce the amount we use [combustion] snowmobiles could contribute toward that goal," says Doug Macfarlane, senior director of mountain operations at Whistler Blackcomb.
In a poetic twist, the machine could also help with climate science. Glaciologists have historically had to Nordic ski to their test sites to not contaminate them.
Bruneau is adamant, though, that the tech will soon make it a perfect recreation tool. He envisions trailside chargers for tour operators and at warming huts and cabins. Taiga also built the machine to be upgradable as their batteries improve. At a $15,000 price point (about the same as a new gas snowmobile), that'll be comforting for early adopters.