How Does a Snowmobile Work to Give You Hardcore Power on a Soft Snowy Surface?

A snowmobile is a great way to get around during the winter. But how does it work? Are you wondering why I even care to tell you these? It’s because, if you know the mechanism in-depth, it is easier to maneuver the snow vehicle with confidence.  We are here to answer your questions about this cold weather vehicle, and give you some tips on what to do if you find yourself stuck in the snow. Let’s learn more!

How Does A Snowmobile Work

What is Snowmobile?

The snowmobile is an alternative to motorcycles on the snow. Snow is naturally soft and loose. Motorcycle tires maintain the most minimum traction between the soft snow and two tiny patches of rubber. 

This minimum traction is not enough to keep the motorcycle balanced. So, Joseph Armand Bombardier in 1935 came up with the innovative idea of a vehicle with widely-spaced dual skies on the front and dual wide tracks on the back. 

This is the modern-day snowmobile.

The wider skies ensure better balance while the tracks offer grips and speed. Now you can have all the maneuverability and speed of biking on snow. There is relatively less chance of rolling over due to those snow vehicles’ lower center of gravity. Thanks to Joseph Armand for the snowmobile design. 

How do Snowmobiles Work? It’s all about Two-Stroke and Two Clutches

Don’t get perplexed by the name clutches. It’s not like any old stick-shift car. Any snow vehicles, nowadays, use Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). So you have to use only the throttle and brake, just like any automatic car.

How does a Two-Stroke Snowmobile Engine work?

The two-stroke engine makes more power than its four-stroke counterparts per unit of displacement. However, the combustion is not efficient enough like the four-step machines. A reed valve controls the fuel and fresh air intake through the ports. The height and width of these ports control the power and efficiency of the engine.

When a rising piston reaches the Top Dead Centre (TDC) of a cylinder, it lowers the pressure, and the intake port opens. Fresh air mixed with fuel is drawn in the port chamber. As the piston drops, it opens the transfer port that allows the cylinder’s fuel and air mixture.

The rising piston compresses the fuel mixed air, and the spark plug ignites the air. The ignition creates high pressure, and the piston drops with sheer power. This continuous motion rotates the snowmobile’s primary clutch and the power transfer to the secondary clutch through a drive belt.   

Now Comes the Two Clutches

Two clutches are part of the CVT system in any snow vehicle. These clutches are basically pulleys that sit on the engine crankshaft and track drive. A belt with proper tension connects them together.

The smaller pulleys sitting on the engine crankshaft are the primary clutch. The larger pulley on the track drive is the secondary clutch. When the engine crankshaft rotates at low RPM, a pressure spring holds the primary clutch’s two parts.

As the engine accelerates, it creates a centrifugal force that attaches the clutches together. It allows the belt to move freely and transfer power to the secondary. A spine in this clutch operates the cams. During the low RPM stage, the cams squeeze to keep the belt tight.

When the engine reaches its maximum speed, the primary clutch closes, and the secondary opens. Are you wondering why? Because, unlike regular vehicle engines, snowmobile engines require less power to accelerate than get going.

How Does A Snowmobile Work

Different Parts of Snowmobile

A snowmobile has numerous components that play vital roles in the proper function of the vehicle. However, the following four parts are the most essential for proper function.

●     2 or 4-stroke Engine

●     CVT clutch system

●     Dual Rear Tracks

●     Dual Skies

You already know about the clutch and engine sync while operating the vehicle. Let’s move to the interesting facts about the tracks and skies.


Snowmobile Tracks

Tracks of snow vehicles are like any tank track. The main difference is the former is made with rubber, whereas the latter is made with metal. As the snowmobile tracks deal with relatively lesser weight, so the rubber tracks are perfectly all right.

Snow is both soft and loose. If you put a heavy weight on it across a smaller area, the weight will simply sink in the deep snow. However, the tracks distribute the weight of a heavy vehicle over a wider area. So the car can move quickly over loose and soft snow. 

Moreover, the tracks keep the snowmobiler moving over slippery ice conditions. The tread’s roughness along with a larger surface area keeps the vehicle steady even on the most slippery ice conditions. Most snow vehicles now use sharp studs on the tracks. It offers extra grips on the ice like cleats on athletic shoes.



Skies are the components for steering the modern snowmobile in the deep snow. Tracks only propel the vehicle, but it’s the skies that maintain the proper direction. Dual skies on the front are connected with a handrail system. It ensures easy maneuverability.

Like any regular skies, the snow vehicle skies are smooth surface metal flat bars. They generate the least amount of friction so that the guiding process stays simple. 

Snowmobile Clutch Maintenance

No matter how much fire the engine is emitting or how much roar it makes, everything will be in vain if the power is not transferred to the ground.

The Clutch system is the connection between the engine and the tracks. If the systems are not well-maintained, you won’t have the fun of snow riding. I have learned most of the clutch system maintenance tips from my Dad, a super enthusiast of the snowmobile. Later, I get a few valuable pieces of advice from pro-level snowmobile racers and mechanics.

All of them are rounded up here for you.

Deglaze Sheaves for Better Traction and Tension

Sheaves of the primary and secondary clutches maintain the tension and traction of the tracks. So, it is utterly essential to keep the sheaves ready to roll.

Deglaze the sheaves with emery cloth or Scotch Brite. It will prevent any slipping of the track and preserves the torque of the engine.

Avoid using steel wool. It will only smooth the surface and pile up the problem of track slipping.

Re-install the Belt Properly

When I say correctly, it means tension according to the manufacturer‘s instruction manual.

If the belt is too loose, it will make the engine bog on the low end. The bogging will continue until the clutches get into the correct gear ratio. In the meantime, you will lose both valuable fuel and fun.

Too tight a belt will screech while rubbing against the sheaves. And if the sheaves are steel wool polished, the squeal becomes unbearable.

Is Modern Snowmobile Safe?

Yes, snowmobilers are absolutely safe to ride if you maintain all the safety measures and follow the correct driving instructions. These snow vehicles require sheer skill and physical strength for their high acceleration, complicated maneuverability, and speed. So, if you don’t have the adequate power and skills to deal with all of these, there may be some problems.

One of the most common reasons for a snowmobile accident is the loss of grip. It can end up in severe damage to the vehicle, personal injury, or even death. My recommendation is to choose a snowmobile aligned with your strength and to use professional snow gloves.

“Drink and Drive” is the second most common reason behind modern snowmobile accidents. On average, 10 people die in Minnesota each year due to drink and drive. In Saskatchewan, 16 out of 21 snow vehicle accident deaths are due to alcohol consumption.

So, in a nutshell, snowmobiles are safe as water if you drive them with responsibilities.

Do you need a Driver’s License for a Snowmobile?

Yes, in some areas, you will need a particular driver’s license to operate a snowmobile. In Minnesota, you have to have a valid driver’s license to run a snow vehicle. If you have an ID card, it must have a snowmobile indicator in it.

Countries like Sweden and Norway issue special licenses to operate snow vehicles. Canada offers a Snowmobile Safety Course if you have a valid driver’s license.

Impact of Snowmobile Engine on Environment

Two-stroke engines emit more polluted smoke than any four-stroke engine. So, it is affirmative that snowmobiles are not so friendly for the environment, especially to the air.

The majority of the air pollution during winter in Yellowstone National Park is done by off-road snow vehicles (OSV). They are accountable for 50% of carbon monoxide and 80% of hydrocarbon emissions in the park.

Additionally, the track system causes severe damage to the soil and vegetation and disrupts wildlife’s natural habitat. In 2015, the US Forest Service imposed travel Management Rules to designate OSV movement in particular areas of any US park.

Despite the massive development in snowmobile engine technology since the 1960s’, the OSVs’ still make noise while in operation. It disrupts the wildlife habitat and also makes winter outings a hassle sometimes. Local and state authorities have specific sound limit rules. They check them regularly to keep noise pollution as bearable as possible.


Riding a snowmobile is not only fun but also an excellent off-road adventure. But it is a matter of great complexity for newbies. Because you need a sheer amount of skill and physical strength to deal with the OSVs’.

I have rounded up everything you need to know about how does a snowmobile works. This learning gave me a boat of confidence when I started riding those automobiles. I am sure it will do the same for you.

Don’t wait anymore. Get on board and have a happy winter.

How does a snowmobile work? Let’s See


Writer & Editor at Helmets Advisor | + posts

Near Uddin Ahmad is a chief content writer and editor in Helmets Advisor. He is a dedicated writer with first-hand experience with helmets as he actually loves traveling and hiking to keep his footprint on the surface of the earth.

That’s why his testing and inspecting of helmets and accessories is trustworthy to present to potential users. Besides, he usually provides authentic and liable suggestions with value-added that help pick the best helmets on the go.

Avatar of Nesar Uddin Ahmad

By Nesar Uddin Ahmad

Near Uddin Ahmad is a chief content writer and editor in Helmets Advisor. He is a dedicated writer with first-hand experience with helmets as he actually loves traveling and hiking to keep his footprint on the surface of the earth. That’s why his testing and inspecting of helmets and accessories is trustworthy to present to potential users. Besides, he usually provides authentic and liable suggestions with value-added that help pick the best helmets on the go.