We examined the world’s cleanest snowmobile

With the flip of a switch, the snowmobile springs to life. The batteries beneath my seat engage, and launch me at lightning speed through the fresh white powder ahead. Soon I am gliding across a frozen lake in Swedish Lapland like a speedboat on water. 

Mindful not to get carried away, I loop back toward the starting point, engaging the brakes just before the treeline. The sled skids to a halt. The low whine of its electric motor instantly replaced by the eery quiet of the Arctic.   

“You can connect so much more with the outdoors when you don’t have the noise and the smell of fumes filling your nostrils,” Christian Lystrup, co-founder and CEO of Vidde, the startup who built the machine I have just test-drove, tells TNW.  

Here I am testing Vidde’s pre series model, dubbed Alfa. My wife told me I look like a villain from a James Bond movie. I’ll leave that up to you to decide. Credit: Lars Westeland

Today Vidde launched Alfa, the company’s pre-series electric snowmobile. In doing so, the startup joins only a handful of companies worldwide producing electric ski-doos.

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The machine is slated to be the cleanest of its kind ever made, greening a sector historically hooked on loud revving engines and petrol fumes. 

Capable of a top speed in excess of 100 kph, unmatched acceleration and torque to rival even the best sleds available today, the Alfa could signal the start of a new era. Europe’s Tesla of snowmobiling, if you will. 

“We wanted to design a machine that is quiet, powerful, stylish, and can do everything a petrol-powered sled can — but without all the negative impacts,” says Lystrup. 

The co-founders of Vidde, Yalda Mirbaz and Christian Lystrup.The co-founders of Vidde, Yalda Mirbaz (left) and Christian Lystrup. Credit: Siôn Geschwindt for TNW

Headquartered in Stockholm, Vidde is uniquely positioned to benefit from the country’s burgeoning demand for electrified transport. World-leading EV manufacturers like Volvo and Scania operate on its doorstep. 

The cold north — sometimes referred to as “Sustainability Valley” — is also home to numerous well-funded startups building and validating the technologies Vidde will need to scale, from better batteries to greener steel

The path to cleaner rides

Emitting less than 100 grams of CO2 per kilometre, Alfa is designed to cut 85% of the emissions from traditional snowmobiling. And once production is up-and-running, Vidde looks to make the machine circular, further cutting the upstream emissions produced by manufacturing materials such as plastic, rubber, and metal.  

For decades, snowmobiles have largely avoided environmental regulation. The common thinking has been that the sector was too small to have much of an impact. 

Unlike cars, snowmobiles aren’t required to include a catalytic converter, which removes pollutants from emissions. Many run on two-stroke engines which spit much of the fuel they use straight out of the exhaust, unburned. 

In one hour, a traditional snowmobile can emit as much hydrocarbon as a 2008 model automobile emits in 1,700 kilometres of driving. 

A Lynx petrol-powered snowmobile under the aurora borealis in the small town of Jukkasjärvi in Swedish Lapland. Models like these can be found in almost every home, hotel, and ski resort in this region. Credit: Siôn Geschwindt for TNW 

Around 130,000 snowmobiles are sold each year globally, with Sweden representing the third largest market behind the US and Canada. 

With regulations tightening, many consumers and businesses in the Nordic country are looking for cleaner alternatives to everything from cars and planes to boats and lawnmowers. Naturally, snowmobiles are next. 

And there’s another, often undervalued benefit of using batteries to power sleds — the silence. 

Typical snowmobiles shatter the stillness of the forest like Harley Davidson’s on skis. When driving electric though, you can hear the whoosh of the sled cutting through the snow, the icy wind whistling past your face, even the howl of huskies in the distance.  

Founded just two years ago, Vidde is off to a smooth start. It has secured €2.5mn in grant and VC funding, and is backed by the Research Institute of Sweden. Alfa was designed by Pininfarina, the Italian car design firm who counts Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, and Maserati among its customers.  

Vidde already has a number of preorders from clients in Sweden. The bulk of these are ski resorts, who are looking to meet customer demand for greener rides. 

Lina Andersson, a wilderness guide at the world-famous IceHotel in Jukkasjärvi, 145 kilometres north of the Arctic circle, says that more and more guests are refusing to go on petrol-powered snowmobile tours. 

“Some are demanding a more sustainable alternative, while some just hate the noise and smell,” she says. 

Every morning, Andersson fires up a platoon of 30 snowmobiles for the day’s swarm of eager tourists. The fumes “can get really intense,” she tells us. Some of her fellow guides have even suffered partial hearing loss from constant exposure to the racket. 

the icehotel entranceThe entrance to the IceHotel rooms. The iconic hotel will be one of Vidde’s first testing grounds. Credit: Siôn Geschwindt for TNW

I asked Andersson’s colleague, Jonny, who is an avid snowmobiler, whether he thought electric was the future. The man of few words simply replied: “Absolutely,” as he dismounted from the Alfa after his first spin on the e-sled.   

A new era

Vidde is still a budding company, with a small tight-knit team toiling day and night to validate their product.  

Fredrik Blom, head of engineering & CTO, is working closely with Pininfarina to improve the performance of the batteries, connect the vehicle to the digital cloud for continuous upgrades, and achieve perfect weight distribution for the best possible drivability

Lystrup tells us that they sourced parts for Alfa from local suppliers based in Sweden. Each supplier provides one or two “sections”, and then the startup simply puts them together like lego blocks. 

The company isn’t pushing to produce everything itself. “We have a top class automotive industry here [in Sweden] — we want to take advantage of the supply chain that already exists,” says Lystrup. 

Perhaps Vidde is learning from the mistakes of startups like Dutch ebike maker VanMoof and Swedish electric dirtbike maker CAKE, both of whom tried to create an end-to-end system of proprietary parts and dealers. And both of whom recently went bankrupt

Vidde is looking to sell its first production-ready sled in the 2024/2025 winter season. The startup’s co-founder and finance guru Yalda Mirbaz says it will need an additional runway of €2.5mn to reach this milestone.    

As I stood out on the frozen lake with the sun setting behind me, deep orange rays struck the sleek white chassis of the Alfa — everything engulfed by silence, not a breath of wind. Then the faint buzz of an engine quickly turned into a deafening din as a group of sledders whizzed by. 

As I stood there, the Alfa in the foreground, and petrol-powered snowmobiles riding into the distance, I couldn’t help but feel that I was witnessing the end of an era, and the start of something better.    

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