Polaris introduced its Switchback crossover concept (part trail snowmobile, part mountain snowmobile) in the Edge chassis where it was simply a rebadged SKS (Snow King Special). Now, though, Polaris’ mountain lineup has aggressively moved forward using the badge “RMK.”

Polaris essentially created the crossover niche with the marketing idea of “Build it and they will come.” Come they did. Well, buyers bought into the crossover concept and the other Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) followed suit; Cat with its Crossfire, Ski-Doo with its Renegade and Yamaha with its Nytro XTX. As history goes, the Switchback is the original.

From its inception, the Switchback’s visibility in the marketplace was cyclic, with Polaris reinventing its personality many times, mostly through track length and lug height. Yet there was a point in time when sales were dismal and Polaris thought of scrapping the Switchback.

In model-year (MY) 2009, Polaris introduced its extreme backcountry RMK, dubbed Assault. In all reality, it was more hyper-Switchback than RMK. Nonetheless, many customers purchased the IQ RMK Assault. For MY2009 and 2010, Snowmobile.com’s powder crew flogged the Rockies on many RMK Assaults. It became near and dear to our mountain team. As the Assault was originally built on the IQ chassis, we could not figure out its odd track length — 146 only. It did, however, compete nicely against Cat’s HCR and Ski-Doo’s Summit XRS in hillclimbing events. With 2.0-inch lugs and a stiff track compound, it was at home on hard pack snow, but out of shape in waist deep December and January powder.

Again, was the IQ RMK Assault more Switchback than RMK? What we concluded was Polaris built a crossover sled to its Switchback crossover line.
Regardless, the IQ-chassis RMK Assault was a sales success. Polaris tracked and trended its purchase numbers, discovering that slightly more than half of all IQ RMK Assaults were purchased by flatlanders — trail burners and ditch bangers — in the Midwest and East. Do the math. Mmmmm…is there a message there?

With Polaris rolling out a nimble, agile and smartly designed Rush in MY2010, and for MY2011, a new Rush 800 and Pro-Ride RMK, it was obvious to Polaris the Pro-Ride concept should roll through to its Switchback line in the 800cc class. Polaris lets you choose your Assault, then you choose your topping of RMK or Switchback. The 800cc Switchback Assault helps Polaris resuscitate its 800-powered crossover line for 2011, positioning itself as the king of light weight, power and functionality in the crossover line.

Polaris’ promotional material on the Switchback Assault states, “Is it a RUSH? Is it an RMK? What exactly is it? Quite simply the perfect 50/50 Sled. Trail gearing with added flotation. The Assault for the Flats. This is the weapon of choice for all-around terrain domination. A blend of RMK heritage and trail-proven RUSH technology. The Switchback Assault can run the logging roads or head for the trees.”

The 800-class Switchback only comes to dealers in the Assault shirt and tie — silver/gray mixed with black and white accents. However, a Spring-only Switchback Assault was offered to early buyers. The Spring-buy Snow-Check special Switchback Assault is badged “Orange Madness,” and was available with either the 1.352-inch Cobra track, or a 2.0-inch lug track. All other specs are identical to the stock Switchback Assault .

We like the Orange Madness with the Series 4.0 two-inch paddle track and feel it is the ultimate Switchback Assault as it can take ditch banging, corner hugging, tree running and powder hunting, which it does very well. As powder hounds, we gravitate to anything with 2.0-inch or greater lugs. So, the Snow Check Switchback Assault it is as close to an RMK Assault as a sled could be, and not be one. Likewise, the Snow Check Switchback Assault is as close to a Rush Pro 800 as a sled could be, and not be one. When we rode this limited-build Switchback Assault we beat our chests and declared, “We gotta have one of these.” Not to forget, we found the in-your-face orange peel color to be both hot-n-sexy and tough. Simply, in the mountains, the standard Switchback Assault gave up deep snow mobility with its shorter lugged track (1.352-inch Cobra track), whereas the Spring-buy Switchback Assault with its optional powder track propelled the limited-build vehicle into the forbidden zone. It truly is a best of both worlds wonder machine.

But for you guys who mostly stay on the trails, slopes and meadows (such as Michigan’s Upper Peninsula) the Switchback Assault or Orange Madness Assault with the 15-inch wide Cobra track with 1.352-inch lugs will deliver your lunch hard and fast.

The Assault’s oomph comes from the latest iteration of Polaris’ Liberty 795cc 2-stroke, liquid-cooled, Cleanfire fuel injected (CFI) Twin cylinder motor rated at 150-plus horsepower. Bolted to the mill is Polaris’ P-85 primary clutch with a Team LWT driven. This clutch and motor combo is the same as the RMK Assault and is tough enough for the Switchback Assault. And to keep the Switchback Assault owner away from warranty claims, motor strength was poured into the CFI 800 Twin to improve longevity.

But let’s talk function. We are mountain riders. Yet, don’t exclude the fact mountain riders rip trails and boonies, and the Snowmobile.com Mountain and Crossover Team does plenty. For us, a crossover snowmobile must meet our demanding compromises. We don’t expect a crossover to bang with an RMK, Summit or M, but it should muster up a good fight. Likewise, a crossover sled is not expected to straighten out the curves like an MXz, or F-series Cat or Rush, but it should come close. Riding the two “8-oh-ya” Switchback Assaults in West Yellowstone, we found the longer skid (over the Rush Pro 800) compliant for smooth riding across ticked off moguls. To complement the rear skid, the front suspension handled the chicanes and S-curves with ease and confidence; very Rush like.

Back to the “Choose your Assault and Choose your Flavor” concept, here’s how the Switchback Assault and RMK Assault differ.

What are the chassis differences between the Switchback Assault chassis and the RMK Asasault chassis?

• Bulkhead,
• Tunnel,
• Fuel tank,
• Console (digital multi-function display for speedo and tach),
• Pro Taper handlebars and controls,
• Cooling system same as base RMK,
• 800 CFI engine,
• Steering hoop tubes,
• Handlebar hooks, and
• Walker-Evans compression-adjustable shocks

• Rush IFS steering system,
• Rush, 42.5-inch ski stance,
• Rush skis
• Foot stirrups,
• Wider running boards,
• Handlebars lack center-mounted mountain grab bar,
• Torsion spring rear suspension,
• Wider lightweight freestyle seat,
• Aluminum rear bumper,
• Over-molded aluminum front bumper,
• Phantom, Hydraulic disc brake with lightweight disc
• Three-degree tipped rails, and
• 144-inch Cobra track, with 1.352-inch paddles or optional two-inch lug Series 4.0 RMK powder track (Orange Madness Snow Check only). By way of added information, the RMK Assault uses a 155-inch hard compound block-pattern track with 2.125-inch lugs; it is designed for hillclimb competitions; this track’s deep powder capabilities are not as robust as the float characteristics the two-inch Series 4.0 RMK track gives. You have many options from Polaris, who is taking care of its customers.

Wrap Up

We appreciate the Switchback Assault’s snocross inspired wide runningboards and smartly-designed toe hooks. These kept us locked in and locked down for mogul pile driving. Wind protection, and this was a surprise, was good – equal to the RMK. The Rush skis were bullied a bit by the 144-inch tread, especially by the optional two-inch paddle track, but with adaptive throttle and brake control, and body positioning, the Switchback Assault assaulted the grumpy S-turns with minimal ski lift, push and scrub.

The Switchback Assault really is a best-of-both-worlds snowmobile. It is nimble on the trails, comfortable to ride due to its longer suspension (over that of the Rush), Rush-style wide freestyle seat (over that of the RMK Assault) and superb shocks. Its Rush-style handlebar swing, not like the RMK’s mountain specific stand-up style swing, gives the rider the needed body positioning to aggressively sit and lean into a short-bend corner. Conversely though, if pushing a Switchback Assault into RMK Assault-dom, then the handlebar swing may upset your boondocking and sidehilling battle plan. The Switchback Assault dresses out nine- to 11-pounds heavier than the RMK Assault; and those numbers are nothing to sweat about as this is still a lightweight crosser. To that end, we feel that Polaris has launched a near perfect 800-class crossover sled.

Now that we’ve off-loaded some base opinions, here’s another one. We deem the Orange Madness Switchback Assault with the optional Series 4.0 two-inch paddle track to be the boss Switchback Assault (but we’d add the mountain strap to the Pro Taper handlebar for good measure). Any Switchback Assault — silver/gray or orange — leaves us pleased to slap the trails, meadows and boons on. This lightweight sock-it-to-ya rocket delivers.

Second Opinion:  Jake Allred, Photographer and Test Rider

The Polaris Switchback Assault is impressive. On the trails it held corners almost as well as a Rush. Is it fast? Oh yes, very fast. With the extra bulk and weight gone (from the IQ chassis) the engine has nothing to do but propel the snowmobile fast. So how is it in the steep and deep? With the shorter track it isn’t as well suited for powder. It also comes with Rush skis which do not give much flotation. On the other hand, while throttling the Orange Madness Switchback Assault with the RMK track, I was a little concerned as I followed a Pro RMK into the trees on to a mountain side. With a little more effort (over that of the Pro RMK), I was able to pull it up on one ski and ride with confidence. I was also impressed with the Switchback Assault’s track speed as I was able to climb some pretty steep stuff. It is impressive, though certainly not an RMK killer when taken off trail; but it is not meant to be. Its purpose is dual-purpose, and it does that remarkably well.

Jumpers, track and trail killers, and droppers are going to love this sled with its light weight and impressive suspension package. This should be one of Polaris’ bright spots for sales next year.

More Opinion: Kevin Allred, Test Rider

Originally, the Switchback concept from Polaris was to build a trail sled with off trail capabilities. As this concept took off, trail riders soon appreciated the smooth ride the Switchback delivered courtesy of its longer track, as well as the benefit of aggressive hookup without losing much top end speed. I am not Snowmobile.com’s expert trail guy, but I do know what works and what doesn’t. Given that, the two Switchback Assaults we rode and evaluated are very good trail sleds. As far as off trail capabilities, they are pretty serious mountain sleds, in fact many western mountain guys would be happy with the Switchback Assault.

As far as the RMK Assault with the two-inch block track, I need to stress this is a track designed for competition hill climbing; in that environment it’s awesome. Yet, in backcountry powder riding it’s a handicap. So, choose your sled carefully to get the right track combo. As Matt mentions, the Series 4.0 powder track on the Orange Madness Switchback Assault (the snow check special), is the track used on the 2010 RMK 700; it is better-suited for deep powder riding than the two-inch block track on the RMK Assault.

2011 Polaris 800 Switchback Assault 144 Specs
Engine Polaris Liberty 795cc Cleanfire liquid-cooled two-stroke twin; Digital CD; Electronic fuel injection
Horsepower 150-plus
Drive Polaris P85 drive clutch with Team LWT driven
Front Suspension Polaris Pro-Ride A-arm with Walker Evans Pggyback shocks and up to 9-in of travel
Rear Suspension Polaris Switchback 44 Tipped parallel slide rail with Walker Evans piggyback shock on front arm and Walker Evans compression adjustable shock on rear arm; up to 14.5-inches of travel
Length 126.0 in
Width 48.0 in
Height 48.0 in
Ski Stance 42.5 in
Track 15 x 144 x 1.352 Cobra
Weight 457 (claimed)
Fuel Capacity 11.5 US Gal (Regular fuel) with mechanical fuel gauge
MSRP US$11,999 (Base Pricing)

Related Reading
2011 Polaris RMK Review
2010 Polaris RMK, Dragon & Assault Review
2011 Polaris 800 RUSH Pro-R Preview
2010 Polaris Rush Final Impressions
All Things Polaris on Snowmobile.com