A Brief History of Snowmobiling

A Brief History of Snowmobiling

Snowmobiling is a relatively new way to get around during the winter. In fact, the first plane took off long before the first modern snowmobile was invented. Over the years, this much-beloved machine has been refined to give it greater power and more amenities for recreational snowmobile riders.

The First Power Sled

Joseph, William H., and Moses C. Runnoe of Crested Butte, Colorado obtained a patent for the first power sled in 1896. Their intention was to produce a reliable snow vehicle powered by a motor that could be driven over snow and ice for the purpose of hauling loads. The design was essentially a sled with an endless track of chain and crossbars. However, some historians doubt that the power sled was actually built in 1896; this was only when the patent for the design was issued. Plus, the drawing of the first model only included a framework for an engine that could be added later. But it still represents a remarkable achievement for that era.

The Motor Toboggan

While there had been a few earlier, clumsier prototypes, the first patented “motor toboggan” was invented in the midst of the Roaring Twenties. Carl J.E. Eliason of Wisconsin began developing the motor toboggan in 1922 and patented it in November 1927. As the name suggests, it was essentially a wooden toboggan that was perched atop two skies and powered by a 2.5 horsepower outboard motor. Ropes were used to steer. As crude as it was, it was the first reliable snow vehicle and the first to be mass-produced.

The First Modern Snowmobile

A few other prototypes were developed during the early decades of snow travel. However, the first modern snowmobile wasn’t invented until 1954. David Johnson, and Alan and Edgar Hetteen of Polaris Industries built the machine based on Johnson’s design. The first snowmobile was prone to malfunctioning and the Hetteen brothers didn’t want to build another. Johnson finally convinced them to build a second snowmobile for the purpose of towing the first one. During subsequent years, the design was significantly improved upon.


Make the most of the winter season by booking a half-day or full-day snowmobile tour on Rabbit Ears pass. Steamboat Snowmobile Tours will take you on expansive, well-maintained trails while you enjoy the convenience of a new Polaris snowmobile. Call their office in Steamboat Springs, CO at (970) 879-6500.