Tucker Hibbert beat out former snocross rival Blair Morgan for a record number of consecutive gold medals in the Monster Energy Snowmobile Snocross earlier this month. The victory didn’t just cement Hibbert’s role as a champion, it also marked a turning point in the popularity of snocross, the point where champions fade to legend status and new talent takes the crown.
The Rapid Growth of Snocross
Snocross became part of the Winter X Games, the extreme sport’s answer to the Olympics in 1998, just three years after the X Game’s inception. Other X Games fixtures include freestyle snowboarding and ski superpipe events. Snocross, a hybrid of the words snowmobile and motocross, involves racing super high-performance snowmobiles over a course with tight turns, deep holes, high jumps, and other obstacles. With jumps as high as 30 feet, riders may travel more than 100 feet before touching the ground.
According to the World Snowmobile Association, snocross has quickly become the most popular snowboarding event at competitions today drawing more than 10,000 spectators in attendance on average. These high-powered vehicles travel as fast as 60 mph on an extreme snocross course, and up to 130 mph on a straightaway.
What makes these snowmobiles so fast and durable? Lighter body weights, powerful engines, and the right components have all contributed to creating snowmobiles that are designed to tackle the toughest snocross courses. In addition to snocross, stock class snowmobiles, sometimes called sleds, also race on dirt or sand in warmer months.
Let’s look at some of the developments over the years that have helped these unique vehicles do what they were made to do.
Stock Class Snowmobile Engines
Most of the snowmobiles pros like Tucker Hibbert race in the X Games are deemed stock class 600 sleds. This indicates either a 600cc engine or the total volume of the cylinders of the engine that can be filled with a fuel/air mixture.
As with the engine on a larger vehicle such as a car or truck, engine performance can get a boost with an improved air intake. Unlike with cars and trucks, however, keeping snow out of the air intake also helps. Today’s racing snowmobiles include a screen designed to minimize snow ingestion, and usually another screen that helps prevent parts from icing.
Body Design and Components
The design of the body should be maximized for rider comfort in order to reduce fatigue and make steering nearly effortless. This helps drivers be more effective in a race. The body, as well as the tracks, rails, and suspension system, will also affect handling. Precise handling is necessary for the bumps, jumps, and banked curves of a snocross track.
Weight and Suspension
Snowmobile designers have worked hard for decades to minimize the weight of the body for increased speed and improve durability of the components. Utilizing chromoly tubing, extruded aluminum subframe components, and a lightweight crankshaft contributes to a reduction in the overall body weight.
Finally, a strong, but lightweight, suspension system will give snocross racers an edge in competition. A ball joint design with a long extruded aluminum spindle improves ground clearance and geometry for better handling and greater stability.
Maintaining Your Own Snowmobile
Whether you plan to compete in the X Games or simply want to satisfy your need for speed this winter, one key to solid snowmobile performance is proper maintenance. Here are the basics of good snowmobile maintenance:
- Break in the engine by pre-mixing the first tank of fuel with high-quality motor oil.
- Check components and clean or rebuild clutches at the start or end of every season.
- Wash your snowmobile after every trip to prevent rust and corrosion caused by road salt and to wash away grease or oil. At this time, check the snowmobile for gasket leaks. Make sure the sled dries completely on a jack stand before your next trip or before packing it away for the summer.
- Warm up the engine before a ride.
Ready to Run?
A snowmobile just may be the fastest thing on two skis, and can be a lot of fun no matter what style of sledding you prefer.