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Today's machine is a marvel of modern engineering

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Other than the familiar yellow paint, the modern Ski-Doo, above, shares little with its early Bombardier ancestor, below.

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Nope, it’s not a grasshopper, above and at the top of page, this is the 2013 Arctic Cat Sno-Pro 600, built especially for racing.


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You may be lamenting all that white stuff as you shovel your driveway, but thousands of Manitoba snowmobile enthusiasts are jumping for joy.

The riders aren't the only ones happy about all this snow, according to Snoman Inc., the governing body of snowmobiling in Manitoba. Many local businesses also profit substantially from snowmobiling. Since 1994, it's estimated that the economic benefit of snowmobiling in Manitoba has amounted to more than $2 billion.

My, how things have changed. In the early days of snowmobiling, the machines were little more than a sled with a pair of skis up front, a track on the rear, a small engine and a crude seat for the operator.

Today, the modern snowmobile is an engineering masterpiece that would look just as much at home traversing the surface of the moon as running across Lake Winnipeg.

According to Wikipedia, the first U.S. patent for a motorized snow-machine using a track in the rear and skis up front was issued to Ray H. Muscott of Waters, Michigan, on June 27, 1916. Not long after this patent was issued, Ford Model T cars and trucks with the undercarriages replaced with tracks and skis began popping up and were popular for rural mail delivery. These converted cars, known as Snowflyers, were also extremely popular in northern Canada.

Although others have tried to lay claim to the invention, the first person to successfully design and market the modern snowmobile was Canadian inventor and businessman Joseph-Armand Bombardier from Quebec. Bombardier, with his Ski-Doo brand, is widely considered the father of snowmobiling. He was granted a Canadian patent in 1960 and a U.S. patent in 1962 for his endless track vehicle. The snowmobile was born.

The first snowmobiles designed for recreational use featured tiny two-stroke engines that only produced about 10 horsepower. The two-stroke engine continued to dominate the market for many years, but more efficient and cleaner running four-stroke engines that can make as much as 150 horsepower have flooded the market in recent years.

When Bombardier died of cancer at the age of 56 in 1964, his company was producing around 8,000 snowmobiles per year. To say his invention has flourished would be a considerable understatement. It has skyrocketed.

In the traditional snowmobile seasonal months from January through March of this year, 48,689 snowmobiles were sold in the U.S. and 40,165 were sold in Canada, according to Ed Klim, president of the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Group, (ISMA). Sales in Europe and Russia accounted for another 40,223 machines, so nearly 130,000 new snowmobiles were sold worldwide last season in just three months.

More than 1.4 million snowmobiles were also registered in the U.S. last season, and more than 600,000 were registered here in Canada. When you add the estimated 700,000 machines registered overseas, the number climbs to more than 2.7 million people around the globe riding snowmobiles. ISMA also says the average snowmobile rider is 41 years' old and rides about 1,600 kilometres each winter.

Today, the Ski-Doo brand that Bombardier made famous continues to be very popular and is one of our nation's premier exports. But there are also snowmobiles manufactured by American companies such as Arctic-Cat and Polaris, as well as Japanese manufacturer Yamaha.

Regardless of which brand you choose, today's snowmobile is a marvel of modern engineering that is both reliable and fun. These versatile machines enable those of us living in winter climates to get outside and enjoy the beautiful scenery and share in some family fun.

Snowmobile clubs across the province are working hard grooming trails for a winter of fun as we speak. Just remember: Ride safe, and stay on the trails!

Snoman knows where and how to ride!

Manitoba has more than 12,000 kilometres of groomed snowmobile trails that are maintained by 51 different snowmobile clubs.Snoman, or the Snowmobilers of Manitoba is a non-profit organization that is the governing body for the province's sanctioned snowmobile clubs.

Snoman wants you to stay on the groomed trails. In addition to the obvious safety factors, riding on sanctioned trails also eliminates trespassing on private property and brings much-needed dollars to businesses reliant on winter tourism.

If you want to travel on designated Snoman trails in Manitoba, you must by law have a valid Snopass and display a Snopass sticker on a valid Off-Road Vehicle plate on your snowmobile. The Snopass is now included in the cost of your snowmobile insurance. Manitoba Conservation patrols the trails regularly and a snowmobiler found to be on a designated trail without a valid Snopass will be fined $474.15.

In order to operate a snowmobile in Manitoba, you must be able to provide proof of ownership, a valid registration plate, mandatory third-party liability insurance and wear a helmet. You must be at least 14 years' old and, if you're under 16, you require constant adult supervision. If you intend to cross a roadway you must also be at least 16 years' of age and have a valid driver's licence.

Safety First!

-- Because of the fast snowfall this year, stay off all bodies of water. It may look like the dead of winter, but thin ice is under all that snow. It will take another month of cold temperatures before frozen rivers and lakes should be travelled on.

-- Be on the lookout for grooming equipment, oncoming snowmobiles, unforeseen obstacles beneath snow, unexpected corners, intersections and stops, road and railway crossings, logging/forestry operations, snow banks and drifting snow, trees and branches on the trail, bridges and approaches, wildlife and domestic animals and other trail users like skiers and hikers.

-- Don't drink and ride. Snowmobiling requires alertness, caution and attention. Your reaction time and ability to control your sled can be drastically affected after consuming even small amounts of alcohol.

-- Be careful at night. A disproportionate number of snowmobiling incidents, including nine out of 10 fatalities, occur after dark. Forward visibility is reduced by darkness and it's much more difficult to spot and identify potential hazards in time. Overdriving headlights can also be a serious problem, so slow down when snowmobiling after dark.

Becoming disoriented or lost is much more likely at night. Ride with individuals familiar with the area. Always wear outer clothing with reflective trim on the arms, back and helmet. Never ride alone at night.

Always dress in your full snowmobiling outfit even if your intended destination is just next door

Be certain that all lights are operational and keep in mind that hand signals become increasingly more difficult to see as darkness sets in.