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
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
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
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
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.
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.