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Polaris’ Pro-RMK was just a smidge behind it’s brother, the RMK Assault in our Hillclimb Terrain test. Guess you could say Assault “dominated” the powder terrain.
Mountain snowmobiles continue to evolve alarmingly fast and this year’s Powder Evaluation grew again, with two all-new machines in our mountain test fleet.
As the sleds continue to improve, the terrain and snow we ride in gets steeper and deeper each year. With a fleet of highly capable machines waiting to be tested, the need for good snow became even more important. Sadly, this season our snow arrived later than usual and nature left us waiting right up to our print deadline.

With just days to go the flakes began to fall and we received an enormous dumping of powder. With perfect conditions to put mountain snowmobiles to the ultimate test we loaded up our six sleds, testing equipment and headed to Wyoming for a weekend of testing.

Our test fleet included a 2-stroke 800 from Arctic Cat and Ski-Doo, and two from Polaris, along with a turbo 4-stroke each from Yamaha and Arctic Cat.

For the first time we would be able to compare the performance of a turbocharged 4-stroke against a naturally aspirated 2-stroke. Also, the sleds that won the weight and hillclimb tests last season entered the 2012 Powder Evaluation with new additions. Our 2012 Polaris 800 Pro-RMK, similar to the 2011 model that won last year’s weight test, was now equipped with electric start. Similarly our 2012 Ski-Doo Freeride 146 was equipped with a shorter track than the Summit 154 that won the hillclimb test last year. With both the Polaris and Ski-Doo having what could be considered disadvantages in the categories that they won last year, we suspected the competition would be a bit closer. It was!

We returned to Wyoming for the Powder Eval and as always the Alpine locals welcomed us warmly to their little mountain wonderland.Troy Johnson at Lincoln County Customs opened his shop for us to weigh the machines and to use as needed. Troy’s better half, Carie, kindly fed us and kept the fridge stocked with energy drinks. Eric Byan at the Flying Saddle Resort gave us a place to sleep, eat and drink. Equipped with an excellent restaurant, bar, pool, gift store, rooms and, in true Wyoming fashion, a drive-in liquor store, the Flying Saddle has everything needed in a perfect home away from home.

Capturing accurate data is the most important aspect of our Powder Evaluation and this year we set out to provide more accurate data than ever. In the past we have had good success with AIM lap timers, so this year we upgraded to AIM’s new SOLO GPS lap timer. This slick little device allowed us to measure time and speed extremely accurately by measuring GPS signals eight times per second. To measure weights we used an analog hanging scale connected to a hoist. For each machine we lifted it until the skis and track were completely off the ground, then recorded the weight.
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The weigh-in at Lincoln County Customs went off without a hitch. The Polaris 800 RMK Assault (above), was our lightest mountain sled at 552 lbs. Later, out on the mountains, we used this AIM SOLO GPS lap timer to measure time and speed, first on an 1/8-mile terrain course and the second day we did straight up the mountain speed runs, all in the Alpine, Wyo., area.
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As eager as we were to go and play in the fresh snow our first morning was spent in the LLC shop recording weights. As in years past we weighed the machines as if they were ready to ride, which means completely devoid of any snow and ice but full of fuel, oil, coolant and a spare belt.

For the second year running, the RMK was our lightest machine. This time the 800 RMK Assault 155 recorded the lightest weight at 552 lbs., with second going to the Arctic Cat M 800 at 576 lbs. Even equipped with its new electric start system, Polaris’ 800 Pro-RMK 155 was third at 577 lbs., followed by the Ski-Doo Freeride 146 at 581 lbs.

Carrying a weight disadvantage of both a 4-stroke engine and a turbocharging system the 4-strokes were roughly 100 lbs heavier than the 2-strokes. The Yamaha Nytro MTX equipped with an accessory turbo weighed in at 647 lbs. and the Cat M 1100 Turbo HCR at 672 lbs.
 Wet Weights
Sled  Weight / lbs.
 Polaris 800 RMK Assault  552
 Arctic Cat M 800  576
 Polaris 800 Pro-RMK w/ ES  577
 Ski-Doo Freeride 146  581
 Yamaha Nytro MTX w/ Turbo  647
 Cat M 1100 Turbo HCR  672
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Mmm, mmm-good! The new Cat M-800 was second in our weight test and third in just about every other ranking. We are optimistic about this sled and that the ProClimb chassis has a lot of potential.
Terrain Course
Once we’d logged the weights, we headed into the mountains to find a course to test the sleds’ handling and climbing abilities.

Our goal was a course with some technical turns so we could test handling characteristics. Early on we had several “stucks” that quickly reminded us how deep the snow was. The top couple inches were wet snow followed by several feet of dry fluff.
Unfortunately on the way to the hill the Cat M 800 exploded a belt and sadly that was the one sled we didn’t have a spare for. So the M 800 had to sit out the rest of the day’s testing.

Once we found our hill, test rider Josh Skinner and our guest tester Jay Mentaberry set up a course. We then set the start and finish points on the AIM SOLO, attached the SOLO to each test machine and sent the riders through the course. The SOLO computed the time between the two points giving us a time that was accurate to .001 of a second.

The RMKs again topped the charts with both riders recording their best times on the RMK Assault and second fastest times on the 800 Pro-RMK. Arctic Cat’s M 1100 Turbo shocked us all by recording a time good for third, followed by the Ski-Doo Freeride and Yamaha Nytro with its accessory turbo.
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Ski-doo’s Freeride 146 impressed our testers with the power from its 800R E-TEC and was an exciting ride. Most testers just wished it had a longer track.

HillClimb Test
On the second day of testing the crew headed back into the mountains to find a deep powder hill to test the straight line climbing performance of each machine. Sadly I was down for the count with the worst stomach flu in my life, so I was left “praying” at the resort. Unfortunately that meant we were one rider down and therefore sidelined the 800 Pro-RMK for the day. However, we were lucky enough to scrounge up a replacement Cat belt, so that sled was back in action for day two.

For the hillclimb, each machine made a fresh track through the deep powder heading up a long hill. The AIM SOLO was set to measure the time through a 1/8-mile course. This test favored horsepower and track over handling.

The Arctic Cat M 1100 Turbo was the fastest up the hill with a time of 15.03 seconds. In second was the Polaris RMK Assault at 16.64 seconds, followed by the Cat M 800 and Ski-Doo Freeride. Surprisingly the Yamaha Nytro Turbo didn’t fare as well as the Cat Turbo, with a time of 20.39 seconds. We thought this would be where the Yamaha shined. We later found out though that the boost line to its electronic module wasn’t hooked up so the correct amount of fuel could not be added and that the charge tube had a leak in it.

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While data testing is a large part of the Powder Evaluation we also greatly value the opinions and impressions of our test crew.

This year we invited several test riders from various snowmobiling backgrounds to get a diverse opinion on the machines. Todd Brewington is a recreational backcountry rider from Idaho Falls who currently rides a long-track Polaris IQ RR. Levi Tormanen is from Minnesota but fell in love with mountain riding on a trip to Wyoming last season and decided to stay. He now spends his days riding powder and nights working at a local restaurant. Jay Mentaberry is an Alpine, Wyo., resident who rides backcountry and hillclimb races, Jay, 17, is one of the most promising young mountain riders in the sport and has a huge amount of talent and skills. We also spent several rides on these sleds breaking them in before the Powder Sled Eval and at least a couple times these guys were able to make it out with us.

While each rider had different comments on the machines they all agreed that the Polaris RMK Assault was their favorite, even though they only got to ride it for truly one full day. Their comments gave us confidence that we were correct in naming the RMK our Best Mountain Sled this season. Across the board the riders praised the predictable handling and maneuverability of the Pro chassis in both our Polaris sleds.

Second most popular was the Ski-Doo Freeride. Everyone loved the 800 E-TEC’s power and while the shorter track held the machine back from being a serious powder climbing machine, everyone praised it for its exciting ride. The M 800 was third, riders loving the power and chassis, but everyone was wary of first season reliability and so far our thoughts are that the M 800’s handling tends to vary a lot with snow conditions.

The M 1100 Turbo was the most popular of the 4-strokes and everyone loved its big horsepower, but some complained about the weight and tendency for the heavy front-end to dive. But everyone’s impressions were generally favorable for the M-Turbo. Test riders also heaped praise on the Yamaha for its build quality and fit and finish but unfortunately the machine was down on power due to its turbo system problems that were unknown at test time.
Hillclimb Terrain Course
Time between two points on a packed winding uphill course
 SLED  Jay  Josh  Average
 Polaris 800 RMK Assault  25.56  21.39  23.475
 Polaris 800 Pro-RMK w/ ES  25.89  21.93  23.91
 Arctic Cat M 1100 Turbo HCR  26.67  21.5  24.085
 Ski-Doo Freeride 146  26.39 23.45   24.92
Yamaha Nytro MTX w/ Turbo  27.61  22.58  25.095
Arctic Cat M 800 DNS DNS DNS

Hillclimb Test
1/8 mile uphill test in fresh snow
 SLED  Time
 Cat M 1100 Turbo HCR  15.03 seconds
 Polaris 800 RMK Assault  16.64 seconds
 Arctic Cat M 800  18.45 seconds
 Freeride  18.8 seconds
 Nytro Acc. Turbo  20.39 seconds

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Yamaha’s Nytro MTX with add-on Turbo is alive with power, but we had some technical issues with its turbo, so it was down on power. A lack of early season snow cut into our prep time.
With really deep snow we put our demo sleds through a thorough test of their deep snow abilities.

The Polaris 800 RMK Assault performed the best overall and between our testers was the unanimous pick as the best sled. It is rare that all our testers pick one machine as the favorite, but it explains how good this machine really is. Polaris has picked up Western market share with the Pro-RMK and Polaris tells us this is the best-selling sled in North America this season.

The Ski-Doo and Arctic Cat 800s are certainly nipping at the heels of the RMK, but fell just short in our testing. While we didn’t have a longer-tracked Ski-Doo Summit, the Ski-Doo Freeride 146 worked well in our test and was incredibly fun to ride. To be honest, its shorter track kept it from competing well with the Polaris.

Arctic Cat’s new ProClimb chassis works well in many conditions, but this first year machine has been plagued by a variety of assembly and reliability problems that have held it back. Once Cat works the bugs out of the M 800 ProClimb it will be a great machine. Cat’s Turbo HCR was the real surprise. All of our test riders complimented the M 1100 Turbo on it’s incredible power. Even as the heaviest machine in our test, its weight wasn’t too noticeable as the Turbo powered through deep snow well.
Yamaha’s Nytro with its add-on turbo offered good horsepower in a relatively light 4-stroke package, however our issues with its turbo and lack of early testing (due to poor snow) held back its performance. We feel it could challenge the M 1100 Turbo in a hillclimb, if working properly. We’ll give you our full-season eval next fall.

Overall the demo fleet worked incredibly well. Each sled has its own strengths and weaknesses, which we’ll elaborate on in long-term tests in future issues. The key to deciding between these sleds is picking the strengths that best match your riding style.
If big horsepower is what you’re looking for then a 4-stroke turbo is the way to go. For nimble technical handling the 2-strokes are much better. (See Olav Aaen’s 2- vs. 4-stroke story, p. 46.)

All the sled makers offer a tour of demo rides each Spring. We urge you to spend a day riding them yourself to see what fits your style best.

Overall Tester Ratings
 SLED  Josh  Jay  Todd  Levi
 Polaris 800 RMK Assault  1  1  1  1
 Ski-Doo Freeride 146  3  2  2  2
 Arctic Cat M 800  2  4  3
 Arctic Cat M 1100 Turbo HCR  4  3  4  4
 Yamaha Nytro w/ Turbo  5  5  5  5

Second Opinion
“I thought the Polaris would work the best in all around fun and “snowmobility” for my style, and I was right. BOTH Cats were a pleasant surprise though. On Sunday’s tree ride, the Cat M 800 was easily the second best performing sled in the super deep powder, after the Assault. I theorized that the M works well in dry powder, but suffers in the heavy stuff from its front-end drag and lack of flotation. The 1100 Turbo worked pretty well, but riders somewhat avoided it for riding in the trees because of how difficult it was to get unstuck. Everyone spoke of how fun the Freeride was, but at the same time agreed it just didn’t have enough track to feel comfortable busting technical lines through the trees in the armpit deep powder. EVERY sled got stuck MANY times regardless of the rider. It wasn’t a matter of if you got stuck, but how often and how hopelessly. It was nuts!”
Josh Skinner,
Western Test Rider
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