Since the dawn of time, humans have used creativity to adapt their transport methods to their environment ­ particularly in northern countries. Inhabitants overcame the isolation of snowbound seasons first by using their own strength and by traveling on skis and snowshoes.

Through time, northern peoples began using animal strength to help them travel further and faster while preserving their own energy.

In several countries, at least one species of animal was domesticated in addition to horses: dogs in Siberia, Alaska, Greenland, and northern Canada; reindeer in Lapland; yaks in the Himalayas, and even dromedaries in Siberia.

From century to century, human ingenuity always led to more efficient solutions. Since the discovery of motor power, several inventors worked to improve snow travel.

Before the snowmobile of today, people went through various prototypes and trials, more or less successful, with smaller vehicles. Between 1927 and 1962, 13 patents were granted to North American inventors for predecessors to the modern snowmobile. Joseph-Armand Bombardier was the first to successfully market such an invention; he earned a patent in Canada in 1960 and the United States in 1962, and launched an industry that would forever change the course of snow travel.

Snowmobiles are used as much for leisure as for work. Today, manufacturers design and market a wide variety of models adapted to consumers' varied needs.

Expedition to the North Pole

Through its history, the snowmobile has attracted adventurers seeking to beat world records or go on unusual treks. In one such expedition, American Ralph Plaisted traveled to the North Pole in 1968: an outstanding moment in the conquest of the Arctic.

The impossible dream

Ralph Plaisted worked in insurance in St. Paul, Minnesota. His interest in snowmobiles began in 1963, and he was rapidly convinced that a snowmobile could accomplish the "impossible" and take him on a journey to reach the North Pole by land.
Set on turning his idea into reality, he began preparing by making long-distance trips. In 1965, he established the record for the longest trek.

Before undertaking the voyage, Ralph Plaisted had to earn an explorer's licence by demonstrating his ability through travel in outlying regions for 15 months. He also had to raise the necessary funds, assemble a team, and find vehicles capable of such a journey.

Equipment and vehicles

Plaisted chose fellow expedition members based on their expertise: Gerry Pitzl, navigator, Walt Pederson, mechanical engineer, and Jean-Luc Bombardier, technician and scout. The latter was Joseph-Armand Bombardier's nephew.

The chosen snowmobiles were Ski-Doo®2 SUPER Olympic 300 cc models produced by Bombardier Limitée. Before departure three simple modifications were made to the vehicles: the addition of a gas reservoir on the hood, the shortening of the seat for more storage space, and the insertion of metal studs in the rubber track to increase traction on ice.

The voyage and conquest

The Plaisted voyage began on March 7, 1968, with full news media coverage. On that day, the explorers left the last section of dry land before the Arctic Ocean, Ward Hunt Island in the Baffin area. Their destination lay 1330 kilometres ahead.

After 43 days ­ on April 19, 1968 ­ the American Air Force, which had been following the expedition with airplanes and helicopters, confirmed that the team had reached the 90th parallel by land ­ the precise location of the North Pole. The aviators told the heroes of their victory: "Gentlemen, from where you stand, everywhere is south."







The Plaisted success was a milestone in conquering the Arctic. It was the first time that a motorized land vehicle had reached the most northerly point on the planet.

Until that time, credit for having conquered the North Pole belonged to Admiral Robert E. Peary of the US Navy. In 1909, he cleared a passage through the ice with his ship, then traveled overland by dogsled. 

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Ralph Plaisted

Jean-Luc Bombardier

During the Plaisted expedition, Ski-Doo®2 snowmobiles had to cross breaks in the ice up to 3 m (10 ft.) wide, and ice ridges reaching as much as 12 m (40 ft.) high.

The snowmobile industry took advantage of the expedition to gather helpful data regarding the strength of their machines and operational problems in extreme weather conditions.