A snowmobile is an automotive vehicle for travel on snow. As with most technical innovations, the development of the snowmobile is obscure. Joseph-Armand BOMBARDIER, a mechanic from Valcourt, Qué, developed the first of many oversnow vehicles - a propeller-driven sled - in 1922. A moderately successful motor toboggan was developed in Wisconsin in 1927, but it was Bombardier who incorporated the motive sprocket wheel and double, endless track that made the vehicle practical. In 1937 he sold 50 of his B-7 model as buses and medical transport, and he designed vehicles used in WWII; by 1948 about 1000 B-12s had been produced. Bombardier patented many other improvements to suspension, transmission and braking systems to make the snowmobile more reliable, and in the mid-1950s the introduction of the air-cooled, 2-stroke engine made possible the small sport models common today.

Most innovations in transportation have been adapted to recreation, eg, the bicycle, boat and car, and widespread use of the snowmobile was a logical development in Canada. Over snow-covered ground it provides transportation previously impossible except on skis, snowshoes or dogsled. It has provided a means for Canadians to enjoy winter in an unprecedented way and has enabled year-round use of recreational facilities such as cottages. Unlike other recreation equipment, ownership of snowmobiles is more heavily rural than urban, since the vehicle is very useful in farm work. A small number of vehicles are used for racing, but the main attraction seems to be enjoyment of the outdoors and socializing; there are an estimated 10 000 clubs in North America.

The explosion of snowmobiling brought serious concerns, particularly in the early years, about noise disturbance, ecological damage and safety (100 deaths in 1970). The snowmobile was misused for vandalism, habitat destruction and chasing game. By 1972 all provinces except PEI had legislation governing and restricting the use of snowmobiles. The provision of extensive trails, notably in Québec, overcame many of the objections. Although other forms of winter recreation, such as CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING, gained in popularity in the late 1970s and early 1980s, snowmobiling remains popular in North America. In the North the snowmobile has changed the hunting, herding and trapping patterns of the Inuit, although dogsleds continue to be used in extreme conditions.