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Know the West

Students' snowmobiles show up industry



Last winter, in about six months, university students designed a cleaner snowmobile - a feat the four major snowmobile manufacturers haven't been able to accomplish in 10 years, says Teton County Commissioner Bill Paddleford.

Paddleford co-founded the Clean Snowmobile Challenge, held in Jackson, Wyo., to find alternatives to two-stroke engines that emit more than 20 percent of their fuel unburned. The winner, a team from the State University of New York at Buffalo, redesigned a Polaris snowmobile into a four-stroke machine. It produced 46 percent less carbon monoxide and 99.5 percent fewer hydrocarbons than a typical two-stroke snowmobile, and ran 11 decibels quieter than National Park Service standards.

Dave Thompson of Ski-Doo resents the accusation that major manufacturers have been slow to redesign snowmobiles. He argues that "every year our engines get cleaner."

Arctic Cat engineers have been designing a four-stroke snowmobile, the "Yellow-stone Special," for three years. But Arctic Cat isn't planning on mass-producing their snowmobile or researching any of the students' designs anytime soon. In fact, all four major manufacturers are waiting for emission and noise standards from the Environmental Protection Agency, expected this September, before spending money on manufacturing cleaner machines.

But even with cleaner, quieter machines, snowmobile users may not have clear passage into the dozens of national parks that banned snowmobile use this spring (HCN, 3/27/00).

"You can solve emissions and noise," says Howard Haines of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. "What you can't solve is the management control needed - to handle wildlife harassment, for example."

Copyright 2000 HCN and Beth Wolhberg