STOWE, Vt. — Snowmobiles are part of the winter soundtrack in this part of Vermont, at their worst shattering the stillness of the forest like motorcycles on skis. But the motorized sleds bouncing along a wooded mountain trail in February were silent except for the whoosh of metal runners on snow.

The machines, made by a startup Canadian company, Taiga, were battery-powered — the first electric snowmobiles to be sold widely — and symbols of how conveyances of all kinds are migrating to emission-free propulsion. Taiga is also offering battery-powered personal watercraft, another form of recreation where the gasoline version is regarded in some circles as a scourge.

Although electric cars get most of the attention, electric lawn mowers, boats, bicycles, scooters and all-terrain vehicles are proliferating. In some categories, battery-powered machines are gaining market share faster than electric cars are conquering the auto world. Startup companies are wooing investors by claiming to be the Teslas of the boating, cycling, or lawn and garden industry.

The environmental benefits are potentially significant. Unlike cars and trucks, outboard motors or lawn mowers do not usually have catalytic converters to reduce harmful emissions. They are noisy, and they often use lower-quality fuel. A gasoline lawn mower generates as much pollution in an hour as a 300-mile car trip, according to the California Air Resources Board.

California has passed legislation to ban gasoline-powered mowers beginning in 2024, and all new gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035. But sales of electric alternatives are growing even without a push from government.

One of the first customers for Taiga snowmobiles was Taos Ski Valley in New Mexico, which markets itself as an environmentally conscious ski resort. The Taos ski patrol and trail maintenance workers will use the electric snowmobiles for tasks such as transporting injured skiers or servicing snow-making equipment, said Taos Ski Valley CEO David Norden. When skiing resumes this year, Taos also plans to deploy an electric snow-grooming machine made by Kässbohrer Geländefahrzeug, a German firm.


Even if the electric snowmobiles, which start at $17,500, are more expensive than gasoline counterparts, which can be had for less than $10,000, the resort will save money on fuel and maintenance, Norden said.

“You do the cost-benefit analysis, you’re probably close to breakeven,” he said. “These are not only decisions for the environment but also good decisions for our bottom line.”

But sometimes people are converting to electrical power because it offers practical advantages.

Buyers of electric lawn and garden equipment polled by the Freedonia Group, a research firm, cited noise reduction, low maintenance costs and no need to store cans of gasoline in the garage as their most important priorities. Often electric leaf blowers or string trimmers are cheaper and lighter than gasoline versions.

But electrifying boats and other vehicles often presents technological challenges. Electrical energy works for smaller watercraft or boats that do not travel very far. It’s the only option on the hundreds of lakes where conventional outboard motors are banned because of noise or pollution.

Because water creates so much resistance, however, big power boats require amounts of continuous power that are beyond what batteries available today can provide. (Sailboats, of course, have operated on wind power for thousands of years.)


Batteries are “part of the answer to the future but not necessarily the complete answer,” said David Foulkes, CEO of Brunswick, which makes Mercury marine engines.

Still, Mercury has unveiled a prototype electric outboard motor and is watching the shift to electrification carefully.

“We intend to be a leader in this space,” said Foulkes, who drives a battery-powered Porsche. “Even if the market is small at the moment, we want to be there and see what the market does.”

Taiga CEO Samuel Bruneau said electrifying snowmobiles was a challenge because the batteries and motors needed to cope with extreme temperatures and bumpy terrain.

“No one was coming into that space, because it would require new technology,” he said. “That is the opportunity we saw.”

Competition is coming. BRP, a company based in Quebec that makes Ski-Doo snowmobiles as well as all-terrain vehicles and motorboats, has said it will offer electric versions of all its products by 2026. The company also plans to enter the motorcycle market with a line of electric two-wheelers in 2024.


“There is a trend out there driven by the automobile,” said José Boisjoli, CEO of BRP, which is the largest snowmobile maker. “We can’t ignore it.”

But he said the transition would happen more slowly in recreation. For one thing, the markets are much smaller, making it harder to achieve the cost savings that come with mass production. Fewer than 135,000 snowmobiles were sold worldwide in 2021, compared with roughly 60 million cars.

And snowmobiles and powerboats don’t receive the government subsidies or tax breaks that can cut thousands of dollars off the price of an electric car. Charging is also an issue in the woods. Taiga has installed charging stations alongside a popular snowmobile trail network in Quebec, and it plans more.

But snowmobilers who venture deep into the wilderness will still prefer gasoline, Boisjoli said. “The combustion engine will be present in snowmobiles for a long time,” he said.

Dominic Jacangelo, executive director of the New York State Snowmobile Association, agreed that long-distance snowmobilers, who can easily travel more than 100 miles a day, would be skeptical.

Still, Jacangelo said he was eager to try out a Taiga. “In terms of performance, you’ve got a sled that will keep up with anything else out there on the market,” he said.

Because electric snowmobiles are quieter, they could help reduce friction between snowmobilers and people who consider the machines an affront to nature. That would open up more terrain for snowmobiles.

“Certainly,” Jacangelo said, “an electric sled is going to change a lot of environmentalists’ view of snowmobiling.”