Sleds Leap the First Hurdle in Clean Snowmobile Challenge

By Marcia Goodrich | Published

The serious mechanical difficulties that often plague entrants were nearly nonexistent during the first major event of the SAE Clean Snowmobile Challenge, now in its fifth year hosted by Michigan Tech.

Six of the original 10 fuel-powered sleds completed a 100-mile course in the Endurance Run Tuesday, March 20, with two of the four all-electric, zero-emissions snowmobiles finishing a 10-mile course.

McGill University, in Montreal, and Utah State University completed the 10-mile event, with the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and Clarkson University, in Potsdam, N.Y., coming up short.

Teams completing the 100-mile Endurance Run were Kettering University (powered by E85 ethanol) of Flint, Mich., the University of Maine (E10), the University of Minnesota at Duluth (E85), the University of Idaho (gasoline), Minnesota State University at Mankato (E85) and McGill University’s hybrid design sled. McGill brought two snowmobiles to the competition, a hybrid and a battery-powered model.

The University of Wisconsin at Plattesville, powered by E85, dropped out of the Endurance Run early on with a fire that destroyed its custom seat. The University of Wisconsin at Madison and Michigan Tech, both running on E85, ran out of fuel only a few miles before the end of the run.

State University of New York at Buffalo, the only diesel entry, chugged along gamely at about 20 miles per hour and was eventually disqualified from the Endurance Run for not keeping up with the field. However, the team’s snowmobile did complete the 60 miles required to stay in the Challenge.

Riding 100 miles in an ethanol-powered machine proved an engineering challenge, since ethanol does not provide as much energy to an engine as does conventional fuel.

“We made it all the way, that’s the main thing,” said Ryan Fischer, UM-Duluth’s driver. Kettering’s Brian Schickel expressed similar sentiments. “We lost a panel and a couple of nuts and bolts, but we made it,” he said.

Bystanders enjoyed the ethanol experience, however; the exhaust was reported to smell vaguely of popcorn.

Warm weather had taken out the original Endurance Run route, snowmobile trails north to Copper Harbor. Instead, the drivers traveled around a 2.8-mile track at Michigan Tech’s Keweenaw Research Center.

The Clean Snowmobile Challenge is the Society of Automotive Engineers' newest collegiate design competition. Teams of engineering students from 13 participating schools have reengineered stock snowmobiles to reduce emissions and noise while maintaining or improving performance.

All teams will have their sleds on display Wednesday, March 21, at the Copper Country Mall from 6 to 8 p.m. Everyone is invited to stop by to view the custom snowmobiles and talk with the young engineers.

On Saturday, March 24, the Polaris Acceleration and Handling Events are free and open to the public. They begin at 10 and 11 a.m., respectively, at the Keweenaw Research Center test track. Visitors should wear warm clothing and be prepared to walk along the snow-covered access road.

The awards banquet will be Saturday, March 24, at 6 p.m. in the Memorial Union Ballroom at Michigan Tech. Tickets are $25 and may be ordered from Sue Kerttu, 487-2750, , before noon on Friday, March 23.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 60 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.