Electric snowmobiles to be used in Whistler next winter

CWA, WB incorporating electric sleds into operations following successful tests of the prototype this season

Some snowmobiles around Whistler might look — and sound — a little different than usual next winter.

Canadian Wilderness Adventures (CWA) and Whistler Blackcomb (WB) are set to be among the first companies in the world to incorporate electric-powered snowmobiles into their fleets next winter, after initially testing out the prototype this season.

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CWA staff were able to test out the environmentally friendly machine, developed by Quebec startup Taiga Motors, on a trip to the Crystal Hut, as well as on the Callaghan Valley’s trail system this winter. “Everybody thought it was pretty impressive,” said CWA general manager Craig Beattie. “We had the odd glitch that happened, which I think that you have to have an expectation of, but all-in-all I think they were all blown away.”

The sustainable sled, emits zero emissions and no sound. Without an engine or fuel tank, the snowmobile also offers a tighter design.

“From the rider’s perspective the snowmobile works very similarly to a regular one, just with better handling, less noise and no emissions. On a technology side, it is comparable to electric cars, just with an emphasis on keeping everything lightweight. You can plug it into an outlet or connect to a standard electric car charger if you want to charge up faster,” wrote Taiga Motors co-founder Samuel Bruneau in an email to CWA’s communications department.

While the sled’s capabilities and distance limitations ultimately depend on variables like snow condition, the riders’ weight and the type of terrain being travelled, Beattie said the prototype managed to make it to the Crystal Hut and back using approximately 30 per cent of its battery charge.

To that end, the sled manufacturers “were able to get a lot of great feedback. The computer can analyze the distance it went, how the battery reacted — all this statistical stuff that they can use,” explained Beattie. “They feel like it’s a great product for us, and so do we. We could run it, potentially, on Blackcomb Mountain, for our night tours and operate a couple trips out of one charge, which would be spectacular.”

Following the development and testing of the prototype this season, Taiga will be producing 10 electric snowmobiles for testing partners, including CWA and WB, to try out next winter, with CWA planning to offer clients the opportunity to test out the electric sled for themselves.

“I think there would be a considerable amount of people that would want to test it. It’s a great opportunity to go on a tour, test the machine and see what the actual capabilities are,” Beattie said.

It’s an exciting development for CWA, who first lent their support to the development of an electric snowmobile with a $24,000 donation to McGill University’s engineering department to fund research into the technology back in 2009. (Taiga Motors was launched by a team of McGill graduates in the fall of 2015, just a few months after graduating from the university).

“We kind of lost track with McGill over the years,” Beattie explained, adding that after hearing about their technology, CWA first got in touch with Taiga Motors to discuss a possible partnership in the fall of 2016. “They were really excited about having the partnership,” he said.

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