SAINT-PAULIN, Quebec — With the press of a green button, Sam Bruneau’s snowmobile sprung silently to life and took off at a low whine. The lithium-ion batteries under the seats propelled the sleek red machine through the outskirts of Saint-Paulin, a hamlet two hours north of Montreal – over bridges, past a waterfall and onto a single-track trail.

Around one curve, Bruneau, 30, pulled his electric sled to a halt in a stand of pine trees, replete with fluffy poufs of snow that gave the bows an idyllic bend. As he stopped, it was quiet enough to hear the snow squeak in minus-20-degree weather. And, if it weren’t for the gasoline snowmobiles also on the trail, the exhaust fumes would be nonexistent.

“You can connect so much more with the outdoors when you don’t have the noise,” said Bruneau, CEO and co-founder of Taiga, a Montreal-based power sports company. “When you don’t have the smell.”

Taiga is the maker of one of the world’s first electric snowmobiles, and has since applied the technology to personal watercraft as well. The company is at the forefront of a burgeoning electric recreation industry, which aims to reduce not only decibels and fumes but also reliance on fossil fuels that, when burned, contribute to climate change.

Taiga snowmobiles can travel about 60 miles on a charge. In as little as 2.9 seconds, they have the ability to go from 0 to 100 kilometers per hour. Their price starts at about $17,490, and the waiting list for them is more than a year long. Photo for the Washington Post by Richmond Lam

From the outside, the Taigas look nearly identical to their gas counterparts. But with the ability to go from 0 to 100 kilometers per hour in as little as 2.9 seconds, they have more torque than many combustion-engine sleds.

As a Taiga employee floored the electric machine on a straightaway, it quickly caught air over a roll, and when the breaks were slammed at the other end of the field, there was silence.


Bruneau hopes this type of power will appeal to performance-oriented buyers and that the quieter, cleaner experience will help attract new people to the sport: “Trying electric for the first time is easier and much more approachable than a gas sled.”

Taiga snowmobiles start at about $17,490 and can travel about 60 miles on a charge. The company expects to make its first snowmobile delivery this winter, and the waiting list for its sleds is already more than a year long.

“We ordered seven of them,” said Simon Boivin, a spokesperson for Sépaq, a Quebec government corporation that manages a network of national parks and wildlife reserves. “We feel like we have a responsibility to play a role in combating climate change and reduce our carbon footprint.”

Bruneau rides a Taiga snowmobile. The company wants to produce 1,000 of them annually by 2025. Photo for the Washington Post by Richmond Lam

The climate benefits of shifting the power sports industry away from fossil fuels could be significant. Snowmobiles in the United States consumed almost 150 million gallons of gasoline in 2020, the Federal Highway Administration estimated. Non-highway motorcycles used more than 216 million gallons and all-terrain vehicles another 382 million. Boating guzzled a whopping 2.3 billion gallons. Combined, that’s the equivalent to the planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions of nearly 6 million cars operating for a year.

Small gasoline engines can also be outsize contributors of other pollutants, such as smog and unburned gasoline. The two-stroke engines still found in many snowmobiles are particularly potent. “(They) are incredibly cheap to make and they have an incredible power-to-weight ratio,” said Gary Bishop, a senior research engineer at the University of Denver who has studied snowmobile use in Yellowstone National Park. “From a pollution point of view, they are about as bad as you can get.”

Momentum around electric recreation is growing. In addition to battery-powered snowmobiles and personal watercraft, there are zero-emissions boats and all-terrain vehicles already available. More marquee names in the industry have also expressed ambitions to move in that direction. BRP, which owns the Ski-Doo and Sea-Doo brands, aims to have all-electric models by 2026. Polaris is working with an electric motorcycles manufacturer to find ways to incorporate battery power in its off-road vehicles and sleds. In a statement, Arctic Cat’s senior vice president of engineering, Bill Rhinesmith, said that the company has “built, and continues to develop, concepts for electric snowmobiles.”


Electric snowmobiles didn’t appear overnight, said Jay Meldrum, director of Michigan Technological University’s Keweenaw Research Center. Meldrum helped oversee the international clean snowmobile challenge student competition, which the center hosted, for nearly two decades. He said the first electric snowmobile to enter was in 2005, from McGill University in Canada.

“It didn’t work,” Meldrum said. The next year it moved across the garage and everyone applauded. Subsequently he saw a number of other promising electric entries, including from Finland. That team went on to form Aurora Powertrains, a company that converts internal combustion engine snowmobiles to “eSleds,” and offers northern lights tours. Since 2017, it has produced 30 sleds and has a goal to make several hundred for next season.

Taiga wants to produce 10,000 snowmobiles annually by 2025.

Bruneau co-founded Taiga with two college classmates in 2015 after they graduated from McGill. The trio was a decade removed from the school’s entrance into the clean snowmobile competition and, while the early attempts served as inspiration, their goal was to design an electric sled from scratch and handle as much of the process as possible in-house, instead of relying on third-party vendors.

“It’s really the Tesla model applied to power sports,” he said. But, he added, “snowmobiles are extreme.”

The primary technical problems Bruneau and his colleagues faced were cost, cold and weight. If the machines are too heavy, they sink into the snow or drag. Low temperatures can drain batteries and limit range – an issue Taiga helps stave off by using some of the batteries’ energy to prevent the lithium-ion cells from getting too cold, which improves overall efficiency.


Before the morning ride in Saint-Paulin, the gauges on the flashy digital dashboard showed a trickle of juice flowing to the batteries, as their temperature slowly rose from single digits into the comparatively balmy twenties.

As for cost, the company estimates that its electric snowmobiles are priced about $2,000 to $2,500 higher than gas equivalents. Bruneau said the difference could pay back in fuel savings within a year or two for moderate to frequent snowmobilers, and he hopes that public policy can help close the gap even further. He would, for instance, like to see incentives similar to electric vehicles for battery-powered power sports equipment.

Improvements to the Taiga snowmobile have been iterative, said Bruneau. It’s gone through five major design changes since the initial prototype in 2016, dropping significantly in both cost and weight along the way, while doubling in range. The company now has three models for preorder, with varying configurations for different snow and riding types.

Tagia brought two sleds along for the test drive – a red Ekko and a white Nomad. They sat hooked to a blue charging station with the Taiga logo splashed across it. “Convergent evolution,” Bruneau said of the marriage of snowmobile and electric-vehicle technologies. He then unplugged his sled, pulled down the goggles on his helmet and slid softly into the countryside.

Despite initial demand, electric powersport manufacturers may eventually have to contend with some of the same concerns that people have about electric vehicles: range anxiety and maintenance.

To mitigate the range issue, Taiga is hoping to dramatically expand its network of chargers. Currently, there are only two installed – including the one in Saint-Paulin. But the goal is to have 1,100 across North America, ideally positioned near food or other natural stopping points, including marinas for personal watercraft.


With the optional fast-charger package, the snowmobile can recharge to 80 percent in as little as half an hour – just enough time for a pit stop.

Taiga is also working to develop a service network. Many of the parts on the electric snowmobile – skids, shocks, etc. – are similar or identical to those on gasoline counterparts. The electric motor is designed to never require servicing and, if it does break, it can be swapped out as a single component. And because snowmobiles travel far fewer miles in their lifetime than cars that use the same battery technology, Bruneau expects those to last more than long enough.

“An electric snowmobile is a logical choice to meet most of the needs we have in a national park,” said Boivin, with Sépaq.

Some, however, caution against battery power being a cure-all for the impact of snowmobiles.

“For the most part it moves things in the right direction,” said Hilary Eisen, policy director at the nonprofit Winter Wildlands Alliance. But, she noted, the electricity for charging the machines must still come from clean or renewable sources for the technology to realize its full climate benefits. And battery-power doesn’t resolve conflicts between motorized and nonmotorized recreators around safely sharing trails or competing for untracked snow. Those, she said, “will need to be carefully managed just like any motor vehicle.”

Ski areas, and other fleets, could be key snowmobile consumers for companies like Taiga. Some are already in line for one of the company’s machines, and more are considering queuing.


“It’ll start every time and the torque is supposed to be unbelievable,” said Sean Grzyb, ski patrol director at the Middlebury College Snow Bowl in Vermont. He has had his eye on the Taiga for about a year, but has so far held off on making a deposit. “I really want one; I just want to make sure it’s actually happening.”

As it starts deliveries, Taiga will be the rare electric snowmobile on the trail. And despite frigid temperatures on the test drive, the Nomad lost only about 20 percent of its battery during approximately 12 miles of riding – on par with the expected range. The most notable issue of the day came when one of the gasoline-powered guide sleds got mired in the powder at the edge of the trail.

Seeing the scene, Bruneau backed the Nomad up and tied it to the gas sled. He then switched the Taiga to “sport” mode to unlock extra torque and gave the throttle a squeeze. With a jolt, the other snowmobile came free and the ride continued on.

The electric snowmobile led the way.

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