The Need for Speed: How Fast do Snowmobiles Go?

There is not one exact answer to how fast a snowmobile can go. While averages generally hover in a specific area for top speeds, so many factors are involved in the ride of a snowmobile, even a high speed for a particular machine will vary depending on conditions.

Safety is crucial when riding a snowmobile, as these can be exceptionally dangerous at high speeds. However, if you’re looking to up the pace of these winter cruisers, read on to find out what makes the glide faster and what might be slowing you down.

Where the Snowmobile Began

The snowmobile began in the early 20th century. Harold J. Kalenze had a patent for a machine called a vehicle propeller in Manitoba, CaJ.D. Power back in 1911. A few years later, in 1915, Ray H. Muscott, A man from Michigan, obtained a patent through CaJ.D. Power for a motor sleigh.

A year later he was awarded the United States patent for a snowy weather vehicle with rear tracks and front skis. The general design was used for rule delivery and commonly known as “snowflyers.” Finally, in 1935, the first snowmobile (by Joseph Bombardier) underwent successful testing. These machines have evolved since that time and continue to gain more intelligent engineering and increased horsepower.

Snowmobile Engines

Your typical current-day snowmobile will most likely be powered by a four-stroke internal combustion engine or a two-stroke internal combustion engine. In the past, two-stroke engines were typically used to reduce the weight and cost of the machine. Four-stroke engines continue to gain relevance in the past couple of decades. Yamaha, for example, now produces only four-stroke engines in their snowmobiles.

In the past, snowmobiles had as little as 5 horsepower from their engines. In the first part of the 1990s, the most significant engines you could get put out around 115 horsepower. Since around 2010, numerous models can be found with engines up to 1200 cc with over 150 hp.

There are even turbocharged snowmobiles, which increase the power of a substantial amount. The variety to choose from grows more and more, with options such as touring, performance, mountain, utility, crossover, and even hybrid snowmobiles available.

Factors Affecting Snowmobile Speed

The speed capabilities of a snowmobile are partially a result of its design and propulsion. However, other factors can affect your speed in the snow as well. Some of these include the snowmobiles weight, engine size, aerodynamics of the snowmobile’s design, the depth of snow or ice you are driving through or over, wind, and the person riding it.

There is no exact number of how fast snowmobiles go because so many elements affect these machines, and there is such a variety to select from. Even averages will change in certain conditions or with different riders.

Wind and Aerodynamics

For example, if you are riding in strong winds, your speed can be increased if it is at your back as opposed to driving into the wind head-on. If you’ve ever held on umbrella or panel of wood up in heavy winds, you know how much a non-aerodynamic design can create pull in these conditions.

The same goes for snowmobiles. If your windshield is very upright and the design of the snowmobile is not exceptionally aerodynamic, and you are out in wintery winds with high speeds, your ride can be noticeably slower.

Terrain and Temperature

The terrain is another component that will affect speed. If a snowmobile runs on grass, it will have a far lower pace than on ice because of the resistance. Riding uphill will also slow you down as opposed to downhill. Interestingly, the temperature is also a factor with snowmobiles. Cooler air is denser when entering an engine. This can increase the power and cause the engine to run better than in warm weather.

Weight of the Machine and Rider

Generally, a heavier machine will be slowed down, as the engine has to work harder to propel a snowmobile forward. A lightweight snowmobile and smaller, lighter rider will typically go faster than a more substantial machine with the same engine. Again, even in this comparison, other factors will apply, such as the snow being ridden on, the wind, the temperature, and so on.

Speeds for Current Top Snowmobiles

The world record for a snowmobile’s top speed is 320 mile per hour by a G-Force-One, although this is a world record and exceptionally dangerous. The average highest speed for snowmobiles depends on the model but ranges around 95 miles per hour to 120 mph.

Some of the higher speed snowmobiles can reach up to 150 miles per hour, but these are high power models. There are also snowmobiles used for drag-racing, and those machines can top out at around 200 miles per hour and up. These, of course, are used for racing in particular and not for general touring and standard use.

The current top brands for snowmobiles are BRP (made by Ski-Doo), Arctic Cat, Polaris, and Yamaha. Engines with 800 cc displacement are now in the top-selling position over those with 600 cc. The Yamaha Sidewinder retails for around $16,000 to $17,000 depending on location and has 180 horsepower.

The Ski-Doo Gen4, as well as their Rotax 850cc E-TEC, are notable competition, and the Gen4 only has an 850-cc engine option. Arctic Cat has several 800 engine options available, but they seem to be sticking with many 600 cc options for the moment, such as the 600cc C-TEC2 with 125 horsepower.

Ultimately, you will need to look at the specific engine as well as the odometer for your snowmobile to understand its top speed. For some models, even if the odometer goes up to a certain number, it does not necessarily mean that machine will ever be able to hit it.

To give you a better idea of some popular snowmobile speeds, these are some ratings for standard models. The Ski-Doo MXZ X 850 has a recorded top speed of 128 miles per hour, while the Polaris Switchback Pro-S 800 caps out at 105 mph, and the Arctic Cat ZR 6000 EL Tigre is a bit slower at 88 mph. The Polaris Assault 800 tops off at 112 mph, and Ski-Doo 850 has a top speed of 118 mph.

Snowmobile Cost

Just as used motorcycle values can fluctuate substantially depending on the make, condition, and original MRSP of the bike, snowmobile cost, both used or new, vary a lot, too. Generally speaking, the initial cost of a snowmobile can be as low as $2,000 to $2,500 for a used model.

Decent quality, new snowmobiles can have a price tag ranging from $9,000 to $13,000 depending on the brand. Some are even higher, such as a few Arctic Cat models that run in the $15,000 range. If you want a used snowmobile

A Word on Safety

It’s also worth noting that in different states snowmobiles have different set speed limits. These can be dependent on both the state itself and the trail you are on. Even if your snowmobile can reach higher speeds, do not exceed the limit as these have been set for specific reasons and conditions for the given trail.

Speaking of safety; you’ll want to be sure you insure your snowmobile before you hit the trails.

More than a dozen fatalities were recorded from snowmobile accidents in Michigan alone during the winter of 2017 and 2018. Some of these accidents involved alcohol, while others were collisions with solid objects. Always take the time to be safe on your snowmobile.

So How Fast?

Remember, your snowmobile’s top speed is not necessarily a pace you should push it to unless you are in an area designated for racing. Generally, snowmobiles will cap out at around 90 to 120 miles per hour but can go faster, especially in newer models.

Always abide by safety laws when driving a snowmobile.