Industry touts, new, cleaner engines |

Industry touts, new, cleaner engines

Emily Aughinbaugh

There’s a new snowmobile in town – a quieter, cleaner one.

But is it a better machine?

Snowmobile enthusiasts, environmentalists and media tested a four-stroke engine snowmobile in Hope Valley this week and were optimistic the snowmobile industry might embrace a more environmentally friendly future.

Lake Tahoe Winter Sports Center Manager Roger Bostrom said attendees were impressed with the snowmobiles made by Minnesota-based Arctic Cat.

“It was incredible the difference between the four- and two-stroke as far as noise and pollution,” Bostrom said. “(The four-stroke snowmobiles) are not the end-all, but we as a tour operation are definitely looking into them.”

Past attempts at producing four-stroke engines for a variety of recreational vehicles failed, according to Bostrom, because the engines were too heavy to provide enough power.

But after the ban on two-stroke engines in Yellowstone last year, Arctic Cat developed new technology, which Bostrom predicts will catch on in the tour industry.

Although the four-strokes put out about half the horsepower some personal-use, two-strokes do, they pack adequate power, Bostrom said

He said Lake Tahoe Winter Sports Center hopes to replace 40 of their 62 snowmobiles with the four-stroke engine next winter, but did not know at what cost.

Although Bostrom said the four-stroke snowmobiles will probably cost more than the $5,500 two-strokes the Winter Sports Center uses, the benefits of the four-stroke snowmobiles will even out the difference.

The four-stroke engine doesn’t burn oil like the two-stroke and therefore puts out 1/20 of the two-stroke emissions. He said the large engines require less maintenance, burn cleaner, get better fuel economy and are more reliable.

Ken Wallace, a snowmobile volunteer for the U.S. Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit and 20-year snowmobile rider, said he’s far from impressed with the new four-stroke engines.

“For touring it would probably be a good application,” Wallace said. “The problem is the four-stroke technology does not come close to the performance of the two-stroke. The power is sadly lacking.”

Wallace said the heavier engine and 50 to 60 horsepower make the four-stroke snowmobiles a poor choice for climbing hills.

Wallace said if the snowmobile industry can survive for the next few years, similar breakthroughs in two-stroke engines might make everyone happy.

“They’re going to be able to quiet (the two-stroke engines) down pretty quickly,” he said. “I predict with all the pressure from the environmental community, there will be much more efficient two-cycle engines in two to four years.”

The League to Save Lake Tahoe will be looking forward to that day.

League spokeswoman Heidi Hill Drum was impressed with the merits of the four-stroke engine but said snowmobiles are still a detriment to ecologically fragile areas.

Hill Drum, who took a four-stroke out for a ride on Wednesday, said many snowmobilers violate U.S. Forest Service regulations, riding on a thin layer of snow and in restricted areas.

“The League is aware that a lot of people choose to recreate differently in the Lake Tahoe Basin,” she said. “There’s a lot of illegal use in areas closed to non-motorized, which becomes even worse when you combine it with a polluting, two-stroke engine. That really is an enforcement issue the Forest Service needs to deal with.”

Although Hill Drum thought more enforcement and consideration needs to be made, she said the switch to cleaner and quieter technology is good.

“We feel the two-stroke snowmobiles are horrific in terms of pollution,” said Hill Drum. “The four-stroke is clearly superior in that it is quieter and less smelly.”

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency has no short-term plans to regulate snowmobiles away from two-stroke engines, however Public Affairs Coordinator Pam Drum said the agency supports environmentally friendly technology.

“We would encourage any movement toward cleaner, quieter motorized vehicles,” she said.

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