Cory Cronquist started up the snowmachine on the Team CC showroom floor in one quick pull.
No stinky exhaust, no window-rattling noise.
It was quieter than a lawnmower.
In the 30 seconds the engine ran, Cronquist demonstrated exactly why today's snowmachines are a whole new experience. Technological advances in boat-motor outboards have finally made their way to snowmobiles, with the arrival of the popular Rotax E-TEC, an engine that runs so clean and so smooth, just about every serious snowmachine enthusiast is either buying one, or drooling over the prospect of buying one.
Cronquist would know. An Iron Dog standout, member of Team CC racing and hometown Eagle River boy, he's grown up snowmachining and has upgraded with the times.
"I was born and raised right here. Literally," said Cronquist, pointing to the showroom floor and indicating where his family's house used to stand. "This is where my (snowmachining) roots come from. I've done outdoors stuff all my life, hunting and fishing, and prior to graduating, I used to ride right into Eagle River to Pippel's Field. We'd go to Fire Lake and actually Mount Baldy, too. I would sneak down to the military base before the highway was built and you could ride for miles."
Those days don't exist anymore as Chugiak-Eagle River has grown, but Cronquist, now one of the state's premier snowmobile racers, still rides as often as he can, usually up north where the terrain is endless. And the Chugiak-Eagle River area is still snowmachine central, with riders packing up their sleds every weekend to enjoys miles of wilderness.
The evolution of the machine has made the sport of snowmobiling much more accessible, Cronquist said. And the E-TECs are a breakthrough akin to how replacing regular fuel with unleaded was for automobile owners.
Last year and in 2008, the 2-stroke 600 cc E-TECs and 800 cc PowerTEKs were released, and this year -- this week, in fact -- the higher horsepower Rotax E-TEC 800 will be arriving.
"In the late '80s, early '90s, the noise and pollution wasn't as much of a concern for the manufacturers as it is today," Cronquist said. "And when they did start improving that, it was to meet the requirements of the (Environmental Protection Agency).
"Now, as pressure is put on producing environmentally friendly machines, the manufacturers are listening to the buyers, and giving the buyers what they want."
The result is an incredibly compact, quiet and clean-burning engine. Riders get an average 19 miles per gallon, with a fuel range topping 200 miles per tank.
"Another big feature is the oil consumption," said Barbara Harris, of Team CC. "It hardly burns any oil."
That's because the oil consumption is electronically controlled, Cronquist said, and the engine burns it more efficiently.
On the showroom floor, Cronquist also pointed out the E-TEC's low idling state, which runs at 1,200 rpms. Compare that to older models, which idle at 2,000-plus rpms and already one can appreciate the convenience of having a normal conversation when out in the field.
During last year's Iron Dog, Cronquist said, all the top racers knew about E-TEC, and just about everyone had them. The few who didn't wished they had, if only for the convenience of the one-pull start, which makes getting going easy, even in the harshest of conditions.
"During the Iron Dog, at 55-below (zero) on the river, this was the only one that started, literally, with one pull," he said. "That's a nice thing to have."
Cronquist said this year's evolution of the E-TEC is definitely a huge leap for the snowmachine industry. He compares it to other eras in snowmobile history: the development of faster, more powerful machines in the '80s; better suspension in the '90s; more ergonomically smart designs in the early 2000s; lighter sleds in the past few years; to the clean, efficient and environmentally friendlier engines of today.
Think of the new technology as today's hybrid snowmobile. No longer clunkers riding loud and sputtering exhaust, these powerful and efficient machines have riders excited about upgrading.
At the top of snowmobile price point, the new E-TECs are not cheap, but, said Cronquist, "You pay more up front, but in the end they pay for themselves. And they're more fun to ride."
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