The SAE Clean Snowmobile Challenge attracts
engineering students with the goal of designing
a snowmobile with lower environmental impact.
Credit: National Park Service
Thousands of Alaskans drive snowmachines for transportation, sport and pure fun. Despite any northern mythology and nostalgia about sled dogs, snowmobiles long ago replaced mushing as the most practical method for hauling gear and people through the Bush in winter. Anywhere in the Cryosphere, the snow vehicles tow cargo, connect villages. They’re used by Natives on winter subsistence hunts. They supply research camps across Greenland, Antarctica and Alaska’s North Slope.
Case in point: When the seven-man BarrenLands Traverse leaves March 15 on a 1,800-mile expedition between Fairbanks and Baker Lake in the Canadian Arctic, they will drive snowmachines and tow sleds.
But snowmachines can be messy polluters that generate noxious fumes and pump carbon into the atmosphere. They’re fingernail-across-the-blackboard noisy– the nasal whine of snowmobile carries in the frigid night air like some monstrous mosquito under load.
No one, not even avid snowmobilers, enjoy the racket.