What we learned – the surprises
At the model year 2018 Photoshoot, we mostly learned that the sled manufacturers are holding steady with their products. Polaris did not update its Pro-RMK and long track SKS lines, but did introduce a new SKS 146 that is a super-hybrid mountain and crossover snowmobile. Otherwise the Pro-RMKs and companion deep-powder SKSs virtually remained the same as 2017.
Ski-Doo brought to the deepest deep-powder scouts a new GEN4 REV Summit X and SP 175 that are planted and lively. Ski-Doo also brought to market a new GEN4 REV Freeride that, for the most part, is a Summit X with reinforcements and hard hit shocks. The Renegade Backcountry X also moved to the GEN4 REV chassis with 850 power. But, Ski-Doo should receive the technical wizard award for electronics by developing Start Hot – SHOT. Where a large ultra-capacitor can start the 850 after initial pull from the pull rope starter. This feature is only available on Summit, Freeride and Renegade Backcountry X line, and as a Spring-buy factory-installed option.
Arctic Cat is making up much needed ground with its new Ascender chassis making its M8000 and M6000 more nimble, lighter and competitive. The M8000 Mountain Cat with Arctic Cat’s new C-TEC2 800 motor, Next Gen plastic, lightweight drive components may be, that is for 2018, THE mountain muscle snowmobile. Cat’s other M8000 models benefit as well, SE and Sno Pro.
Yamaha expanded its Sidewinder line. No longer can customers order a Viper M-TX or X-TX. These are all replaced by the turbocharged Sidewinder. The Sidewinder M-TX and B-TX are fast snowmobiles. The M-TX can climb dizzy heights in the thinnest air. The B-TX is buttoned down to the trail.
Here in a snapshot are some of our more notable thoughts, summarizing our by invitation only sneak peek rides and model year 2018 Photoshoot in West Yellowstone, Mont. This is not all-inclusive report to all products we rode.
The 2018 Mountain Cat, an M8000, may be the quiet mountain assassin for 2018. We felt the same in 2017 for the Mountain Cat (and still do); and this new NextGen Ascender Mountain Cat from Arctic Cat may be the mountain snowmobile other mountain riders wished they had at the end of the day. We thought we would not see the day when a mountain snowmobile would be nimbler than the GEN4 REV Summit, especially so soon after one season. Depending on how the M8000 Mountain Cat is prepped and set for conditions, this come-from-behind-kid may be the climber and floater for 2018.
The 175 Summit X and SP from Ski-Doo are two mountain snowmobiles that are as nimble as Ski-Doo’s 165 models – X and SP. These long Summits are planted to the ground, but are light through the bars and at the nose. Suspension adjustments are needed to dial in just what you want and need, given terrain and snow conditions. Settling for an average configuration will defeat the 175’s purpose. This ultra long Summit is a forgiving snowmobile, but one that begs to knock around a mountain. Betcha after a day’s ride, you will forget it is a 175.
Also from Ski-Doo is the Freeride 165 that is all GEN4 Summit X and more. We feel Ski-Doo should not break out the Freeride in its own category, Ski-Doo should market its GEN4 REV Summits as SP, X and Freeride. The Freeride 165 with tMotion, FlexEdge track, reinforced tunnel and rails, and upgraded shocks is the monster hit snowmobile for the mountains, especially for the Ski-Doo lover. This Freeride is not just for hillclimb competitions and freestylists; it is for the hardcore mountain rider.
Not done with Ski-Doo yet? Well, there is the Summit X 146. We’ll just write this: it is quick, fun and nimble beyond measure. Yes, it is not a steep-and-deep powder hound, but holy cow, it’s a speedy chassis.
Polaris’ Pro-RMK 800s are as they were in 2017, but the 2018 color combinations for its Spring-buy promotional program are better than the psychedelic colors from the 1960s. But, the wicked and sweet surprise is the SKS 146. Is it a mountain snowmobile? Yes. Is it a crossover snowmobile? Yes. The OEMs are making strides in the crossover line, pushing this category deeper into the deep-powder category. We used to promote the Switchback Assault with Series 4 powder track as the best off- and on-trail snowmobile from Polaris. This is not the case anymore. The SKS 146 is all Switchback Assault with more mountain-specific DNA. Like the 146 Summit X, the 146 SKS is the snowmobile to have if you are wanting a 60% to 65% mountain snowmobile, with 35% to 40% on-trail manners. The SKS’ wide PowderTrac Hybrid runningboards, mountain handlebars, 146 IGX – Ideal Geometry Xover – rear suspension and Pro-RMK front end, in our opinion, pushes the Switchback Assault 144 out as Polaris’ “Ultimate Weapon” for on- and off-tail riding; the SKS 146, we feel, now has that title from 2018 from Snowmobile.com; as Polaris promotes: “The 800 SKS 146 is the ultimate deep snow crossover snowmobile.”
The Sidewinder M-TX from Yamaha and the King Cat from Arctic Cat, which both share the same Arctic Cat chassis, are two four-stroke turbo mountain killers one must try at least once, or more. The Sidewinder has its own plastic cladding giving it a unique, different from the King Cat look. The King Cat has Cat’s traditional lines for the M series. Cat uses Team clutches, Yamaha sets it Sidewinder M-TX with its own clutches. The thin air defying ride these give is an item-list one should place into your life bucket.
We swooned over the 146 SKS and we could have placed it in this category, but chose “Deep Powder,” as it tips toward that category, but it would be here in this crossover section.
The GEN4 REV Renegade Backcountry X is a trail burner and mountain stomper – we did not expect it to be so good in the powder. But it was. On the trail, though, the Backcountry X with its wide front end is a crosser that floats over the hard chops with ease, and it keeps its skis down when banking through a tight bend. We like it. In the mountains, though, its wide front end and laydown steering post made sidehill cuts a challenge. We had to find this out for ourselves. But, for standup powder riding while straddling the seat, the free-playing Backcounty X was comfortable. For more deep powder playing, we may opt for the Freeride or Summit X 146, but for trail use, the Backcountry X would be our choice.
The fast turbo from Yamaha, the Sidewinder B-TX, is one heckuva a crossover. When in sugar-like deep snow, its track cuts out the snow and drops the B-TX to ground level, in a hurry. But when powder conditions are right, this is one delightsome snowmobile. On the trail, the heavy B-TX is coupled down. This big turbo four-stroke is gentle when wanted, and blistering fast when needed.
Now, we must cut out some praise for Arctic Cat’s XF 9000 High Country. Like the B-TX it is one wild crossover snowmobile. Be confident when driving this. Understand its weight and power. Know where to take it and where not to. The big turbo four-stroke three-banger will reward you, provided you and it have an agreement on the day’s plans.
This all goes to Ski-Doo and its SHOT – Start Hot. We’ve written much about this so far this season. It is the add-on electronic wizardry deep-powder riders need. It is only available from Ski-Doo, as parent company BRP had the smarts to develop a motor that lent to an ultra-capacitor charging the direct injected motor’s ECU and magneto to create a two-pound electric starter for the Summit. Search your snowmobile history, it was Ski-Doo that developed electronic reverse, that tech Polaris and Arctic Cat bought the rights to use.
Yes, SHOT is a US$600 add on, but its money you’ll gladly spend. Trust us. It is $200 more than the 20-pound standard electric start. Given that, with SHOT, Summit riders will still receive the mechanical pull rope starting mechanism while gaining an electric start at a two-pound add. What do we say? In Ski-Doo’s words “Doo it.”
Seat warmer. This is only available on four-stroke powered snowmobiles. When Arctic Cat builds its XF 9000 High Country and Yamaha assembles it Sidewinder B-TX LE, these can be optioned-out with a seat warmer. This is not new tech, it’s been around for several years, but one feature for those cold days out trail riding we just can’t get enough of. We have seat heaters in our cars and trucks, and to have one on our snowmobile is heaven sent, a perfect companion to handlebar warmers.
We will chronicle the deep powder players and deep powder crossers in the coming months. Later this summer, we’ll unveil our King of the Mountain (KOM), our ultimate mountain snowmobile of the year, as well as our other mountain and deep-powder crossover subcategories: ultra-deep powder, most improved from 2017, deep powder crossover, four-stroke, and beginners.
But, the fist bumps, high fives and grins go the 2018 Mountain Cat from Arctic Cat, the 146 SKS from Polaris, the 165 Freeride and 175 Summit X from Ski-Doo and the Sidewinder B-TX from Yamaha.