Alaska Notebook: Electric Ride  

I’m not a motorhead, although some of my best friends have a cult-like obsession with a certain form of motorized winter recreation.

Unlike them, I am no big fan of tearing through the wilderness on fast-moving machines that put your eardrums at risk, scare off wildlife and pour exhaust fumes into the air. I don’t own a snowmobile, an ATV or a jet boat.

But some engineering students at UAF are making me think twice about my motor-free recreational life.

They rigged up an electric-powered snowmachine that performed so well, it won second place at the Society of Automotive Engineering’s annual Clean Snowmobile Challenge at Michigan Tech University.

The UAF electric snowmachine was not a glorified winter go-cart. It looked like the real thing. It moved like the real thing. It just didn’t sound like your typical snowmachine. It was so quiet, all you hear on the video is gentle whirring. My house cat makes almost as much noise when it purrs.

I’ve only taken one motorhead trip in my life, snowmachining off the Denali Highway. It was a huge thrill, zooming through open country at 70 miles an hour. Ah, so this is what that first hit of crack must feel like, I thought. If a snowmachine salesman had been along on the trip, I’dda bought a rig, right then and there.

But on the way home, as my wrist recovered from a bad case of throttle cramp, I began to feel guilty. I’d been pouring sooty, stinky exhaust fumes into clean wilderness air and filling a tranquil winter landscape with a racket that echoed off empty mountains.

It sure was fun, though. And gee, the noise and the smell wouldn’t be a problem if I got one of those electric snowmachines …

– Matt Zencey