By Emily Stone
This article first appeared in print in the April/May issue of Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine.
Look out, Revelstoke — the familiar whirr of Boulder Mountain coupled with the faint aroma of two-stroke could soon become a thing of the past. Sledders and backcountry adventurers will no longer be seen tugging on their starter ropes to accomplish that satisfying braapp at the trailhead. A scary thought? It shouldn’t be; it simply indicates the arrival of the electric revolution here in the mountains, in the form of a clean snowmobile created by Taiga Motors of Montreal. This innovatively engineered machine will have you charging over the mountain without even the faintest cloud of smoke. Say goodbye to wallet-combusting trips to the gas station because come January 2019, you will be able to own a fully electric, battery-powered sled.
Already amped about this news? It gets better: not only is the electric snowmobile an environmentally friendly method of backcountry travel, it also has many advantages over current conventional models. Unlike combustion engines, electric motors do not need to draw in oxygen in order to function, and there are two main benefits to this. Firstly, there is no lag in reaching maximum torque, making the sled perfect for technical riding. In fact, at 0–100kph in just three seconds, acceleration is almost instant. Secondly, these snowmobiles will be just as responsive in the thinner air at higher altitudes as in the valley bottom. The low-set 150-pound battery makes for an incredibly stable ride, while the whole sled weighs just 470 pounds, placing them on par with some of the lightest snowmobiles currently on the market.
Thanks to continual research, lithium ion battery technologies are among the fastest evolving, allowing for high-voltage innovation. Perhaps you’re used to your iPhone or GoPro going dead in the cold. Taiga has developed a self-heating system which instantly warms the battery from the second the vehicle is powered on, much like an electronic heater. On one charge, you can power 100 kilometres – plenty for a full day’s shredding, or an excursion deep into the backcountry and out again three days later.
In the three years since Taiga Motors formed as a start-up, they have achieved progress from early prototypes to the current finalized product, soon to be unveiled here in Revelstoke. Founders Samuel Bruneau, Paul Achard, and Gabriel Bernatchez stem from backgrounds in chemical and mechanical engineering, and initially started working on electric Formula 1 style vehicles, a project which won them first place at McGill University’s Dobson Cup. Keeping with their philosophy of fast-paced development, they took their proficiency with electric motors and applied it to the creation of the first gasoline-free snowmobile.
Currently, the modern adventure enthusiast faces a crushing paradoxical struggle: the process of accessing and travelling within the mountains often produces an excessive amount of carbon, harming the very places that we love and putting the future of our winters at risk. Local carbon-conscious pro skier Greg Hill believes that soon, it need not be this way. “I have a vision of towing an electric sled with an electric car and pulling up next to a huge pickup with combustion sleds on the deck,” he says, adding that five years down the line many others might be using BC Hydro to fuel their adventures too. Already taking huge steps to reduce his own CO2 emissions, including travelling by electric car and decreasing his air time in terms of both plane and helicopter travel, Hill is an inspirational leader in the wave of environmentally friendly lifestyle changes that the next decade ought to bring.
“Revelstoke is a hotspot for influence in the snowsports community,” he concludes, commenting on how a successful ski town with a strong snowmobile contingent has the power to lead change through action and media presence. Having had the opportunity to test an early prototype last winter, Greg is understandably excited for this new product to make its debut in the Revelstoke area later this spring. Taiga expect to pass through Revelstoke in early April. As well as leasing a snowmobile to Parks Canada for wildlife monitoring in Glacier National Park, they will also be organising a public demo event – keep your eyes on Taiga’s Facebook page for more information.
Revelstoke’s concentration of influential professional athletes such as Greg could encourage skiers, big mountain sledders, and snowmobile rental companies alike to convert to a more responsible mode of backcountry travel through platforms such as social media. Thanks to Taiga Motors, our town could be about to stage a snowmobiling revolution, where noise and air pollution vacate in favour of tranquillity, high performance and fewer trips to the gas station.
For piston-powered traditionalists, it’s likely the reaction to the new electric sleds will be as mixed as two-stroke fuel. Will the e-sleds be up to the Revelstoke backcountry big-mountain sledding challenge? The proof will come in 2019 when Taiga is scheduled to release their first model. If they don’t find their way into the backcountry mountains at first, there is always the market for less challenging terrain, such as use by patrollers at ski resorts.
For more information, please visit http://taigamotors.ca/