Visit 6 of North America's Best Snowmobile Museums!
Snowmobiles have been making transportation over the snow easier for decades — or, if you count adapted automobiles with tracks as snow machines, for more than a century. Today, there are four major brands: Ski-Doo, Polaris, Arctic Cat, and Yamaha. However, that wasn’t always the case.
How Many Brands of Snowmobiles Have Been Manufactured?
The heydays of snowmobile manufacturing were in the 1960s and 1970s. In fact, according to American Snowmobiler Magazine, snowmobile “sales skyrocketed to 495,000 worldwide in 1971, with more than 2 million sold between 1970 and 1973.”
The first snowmobile I ever saw was in 1973, when I met David — and it was far from the last one! While we’d always heard that there were anywhere from 110 to 150 different brands of snowmobiles, Pierre Pellerin’s book series (Volumes 1, 2, and 3), Snowmobile History, provides photos and information of 321 brands of commercial snowmobiles.
Wow! Who knew?
Many brands, we’ve discovered, were marketed in fairly small geographical areas. So, snowmobile museums in the eastern snow zones often have very different ones than those in the midwest. And of course, when you add racing into the mix — we raced away the 1980s — there are even more amazing sleds to see as you cross the country exploring snowmobile museums.
Museum of Ingenuity – J Armand Bombardier
J Armand Bombardier’s museum is in Valcourt, Quebec, where he was born. Generally credited with “inventing” the snowmobile, this Canadian was actually one of various inventors who registered many patents on snow machine related innovations. However, Bombardier was the first to move from handmade machines to an assembly line production for his Ski-Doo snowmobile.
In fact, the first production sled rolled off the Quebec assembly line in 1959. A mere 54 years from that first sled, the three millionth Ski-Doo, a 2014 Ski-Doo Summit X E-TEC 800R, was built in Valcourt. Today, you can see these originals in the museum.
In addition to snowmobiles that show the evolution of the Ski-Doo brand along with visiting exhibitions, the museum in Valcourt also contains J. Armand’s first snowmobile shop. It reminded me a lot of our first snowmobile shop on the farm! And of course, we always had a Ski-Doo parked in front of it, too.
Visit the museum on the Web at: http://www.museebombardier.com/en/
In person: 1001 Avenue J.-A.-Bombardier, Valcourt, QC
The museum is open year round. Click for hours and admission costs to the museum and the Bombardier plant.
Snowmobile Hall of Fame & Museum
The Snowmobile Hall of Fame & Museum is one of our favorites! If you’re not familiar with the Snowmobile Hall of Fame, it’s an organization that recognizes and honors people involved in the sport of snowmobiling. The Hall of Fame was incorporated in 1985 and inducted its first 10 snowmobile racers in 1988. Now, annual inductees are inducted through either competition or recreation achievements.
As you might expect, the museum collection (70+ sleds, trophies, and memorabilia) consists of various historically significant snowmobiles – many of them race sleds. Whether you’re an enthusiast of snowmobile ovals, drags, cross-country, water cross, snocross, enduro or hill climbs, you’ll find a favorite among them.
Various fundraising events helped raise funds for the current building, while a new fund, the Hunter Houle Memorial New Building Fund aims to raise money for a 60 x 100 foot, two-story additional building.
Visit the museum online at: https://www.snowmobilehalloffame.com/
In person: 1246 Sled World Blvd. @ Hwy 70 West, St. Germain, Wisconsin
The museum is open year-round. Click here to check days open, hours, and admission fees.
Antique Snowmobile Club of America Snowmobile Museum (ASCOA)
Wisconsin has always been a hotspot for snowmobiling, both recreational and competitive. So, it’s no surprise that another world class snowmobile museum is just 16 miles away in Eagle River right next to the Eagle River Derby Track.
The museum is housed at the World Snowmobile Headquarters, an organization dedicated to the sport of snowmobiling and the people who’ve made it what it is today. It also houses the International Snowmobile Hall of Fame (ISHOF), which honors individuals in five different facets of the sport.
There are 70 snowmobiles on display at the museum, plus sleds are rotated regularly. Our favorites? The twin tracker snowmobiles of the 1970s! Of course, since the World Snowmobile Headquarters also hosts the World Championship Derby Hall of Fame (50+ years) photos, videos, and memorabilia, it’s a fascinating way for ex-racers to spend the afternoon!
Visit the museum online: https://www.worldsnowmobilehq.com/ascoa_snowmobile_museum.html
In person: 1521 N Railroad St., ?Eagle River, Wisconsin
The museum is open year round. Click here for days and hours. (bottom of the page)
Vilas County Historical Museum
Vilas County Historical Museum is small — and its snowmobile collection is also fairly limited. However, since it’s in Sayner, Wisconsin, just a few miles from Eagle River and St. Germain, it’s well worth a stop. Of course, it does have some important snowmobiles to see too, since it bills itself as the birthplace of the snowmobile.
In fact, the snowmobile in the glass case above is actually the original snowmobile that took two winters for Carl Eliason, who patented the motor toboggan, to create. The museum also diplays one of every “Motor Toboggan” models built by Eliason/FWD.
In addition to Eliason’s collection of vintage snowmobiles, the museum also has various older snowmobiles including brands from Ski-Doo to Evinrude.
Visit the museum online: https://www.vilasmuseum.com/
In person: 2889 Hwy 155, Sayner, Wisconsin
The museum is only open during the summer season from Memorial Day to Labor Day. However, if you happen to be in Wisconsin in the summer, here’s a Google map showing you how to get to all three of these museums.
Top of the Lake Snowmobile Museum
Naubinway, Michigan, at the top of Lake Superior, is home to the Top of the Lake Snowmobile Museum. With a collection of 80+ snowmobiles and a bevy of dedicated snowmobile lovers to tell you about them, it’s a visit anyone familiar — or not — with snowmobiles, will enjoy.
We’d heard of the museum off and on over the years, but had never made that swing up to this northernmost community on the Lake Michigan shoreline until last summer. Once again, this museum collection of 80+ snowmobiles introduced us to various brands of sleds we’d never encountered before. Our favorite? The 1969 Sno Ghia. Imagine a snowmobile manufactured in Italy and imported into Canada and the US! Who knew?
Visit the museum online: http://www.snowmobilemuseum.com/
In person: Located on the north side of US 2, downtown Naubinway, W11660 US 2, Naubinway, Michigan.
The museum is open year round. Click here for hours and admission fees.
The Snowmobile Barn
We visited the Snowmobile Barn a few years ago, on our drive down the U.S. East coast for our 40th wedding anniversary. It was our first introduction to many snowmobile brands we’d never seen — and some we’d never even heard of!
From homebuilts, like the 1951 Engham, to oldies I was familiar with like Sno-Jets and Mercurys, there were 150+ different sleds to see. A couple new to us included two Quebec brands, the Caribou (Ben Augus) that could reach the whooping speed of 35 mph (56 km/h), and the Sno-Star, a brand that advertised an exclusive floating suspension.
A few thousand pieces of snowmobile heydays memorabilia, though, make up some of the museum’s most fascinating collection. It contains everything from toys and posters, to collectibles and ornaments. There’s also a motorcycle and collectibles gallery.
Visit the Snowmobile Barn online at: http://snowmobilebarn.com/
In person: 928 Cedar Ridge Road, Newton, NJ
The museum doesn’t have regular hours, but is open by appointment. Click here for contact information and admission fees.
More Snowmobile Museums
Since our east coast drive, we’ve discovered we did miss a large snowmobile museum in New Hampshire – Crane’s Snowmobile Museum. And while we know of various private collections, other than the Snowmobile Barn, we haven’t included any other museums that aren’t open to the public on a regular basis. However, if you know of more publicly open snowmobile museums, please do let us know in the comments below. We’d love to visit!
About the Photo
The photo above was taken at the World Snowmobile Headquarters – Antique Snowmobile Club of America Snowmobile Museum (ASCOA) – in Eagle River, Wisconsin, next to the Eagle River Derby Track.