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2015 Mountain Powder Eval

Working in the business of riding and testing snowmobiles one of the most common questions people ask us is, “Which is the best sled?” That question is very difficult to answer as the capabilities of a machine are based much more on the rider at the controls than the machine itself. However in this article we will try as much as possible to eliminate the rider factor and gather accurate data measuring each machines performance. This series of tests won’t completely answer the age-old question of which is best, but it will give some hard facts on 2015 mountain sleds from each of the manufacturers.

This year we had an amazing group of machines with a top of the line mountain sled from each manufacturer. From Arctic Cat we had a M8000 Limited 153 equipped with an accessory 3” PowerClaw track. From Polaris, a Pro-RMK 155 and Terrain Dominator 163 model equipped with needle shocks, lower handlebars and different bumpers. From Ski-Doo the much anticipated massive tracked Summit T3 174. And finally from Yamaha a Viper M-TX 162 LE equipped with an accessory MPI turbo kit installed by Lincoln County Customs. In years past we have always tried to keep track lengths consistent between the different machines in this test, but with Ski-Doo’s launch of the 174, track lengths this year are all over the place. With tracks ranging from 15x155x2.4-inch on the Polaris all the way up to the 16x174x3-inch on the Ski-Doo it will be interesting to see how track length affects the results.

Weight Test

Irrespective of horsepower, weight always has and always will be a huge factor in the performance of mountain snowmobiles. So for our first test we took all five machines, filled them completely full or fuel and oil, then parked them in a shop overnight to completely dry off any snow or ice buildup. We then weighed the machines using a digital scale on an overhead mechanical hoist. Weighing in at 511 lbs. the Polaris Pro-RMK 155 was the lightest machine of the group followed by the Polaris Pro-RMK 163 Terrain Dominator at 522.5 lbs. It was interesting to see the longer track, needle shocks and different bumpers made for an 11.5-lbs. weight difference. The third lightest machine was the Ski-Doo Summit T3 174 at 555 lbs. followed by the Arctic Cat M8000 Limited 153 (with 3” track) at 566 lbs. And finally the Yamaha Viper M-TX LE 162 with accessory turbo kit weighed in at 621.5 lbs.

While our weights are interesting, it is worth noting that due to the range in track lengths we aren’t exactly comparing apples to apples. Also, all the machines have slightly different size fuel tanks from the 10-gallon on the Yamaha up to the 11.7-gallon tank on the Arctic Cat and with fuel weighing 6.1 lbs. per gallon, that is a factor to consider. Just for kicks, we did some math and adjusted the weights assuming each machine was carrying 10 gallons of fuel and made some rough adjustments for different length tracks. While these factors do change the weight, the changes aren’t big enough to change the ranking of the machines from what our testing showed.

Acceleration Test
In years past we have done an uphill deep snow test, however, this year we had some difficulty finding a suitable hill to conduct such a test. Any hill open enough to allow for five fresh lines is prone to avalanche and it is almost impossible to find a hill with a consistent grade across all five lines. After hours of searching we decided to do a flat straight line ⅛ mile acceleration test instead. We found a large field and tested each machine on a fresh track. Producing considerably more horsepower than the other machines, it was no surprise the Yamaha Viper M-TX topped the timesheets with a time of 9.32 at 70 mph. In second position the Polaris Pro-RMK 155 did a 9.45 at 66 mph followed by the Ski-Doo T3 174 with a 9.6 at 74 mph. The 163 Polaris did a 9.67 at 65 mph followed by the Arctic Cat with a 10.63 at 56 mph.

Handling Course
For our third and final test we wanted to test the machines handling in a way they are typically ridden. So we set up a hillclimb course that wound its way up a hill around trees and through rough sections. While not quite as steep, the single track course is essentially the same as what riders compete on in the RMSHA hillclimb race series. We then took two test riders and had them race the course from bottom to top on each of the five machines and documented their times. We were surprised that Steve Sill who usually rides a Ski-Doo went fastest on the Polaris Pro-RMK 155 and Colton Green who rides a Polaris went fastest on the Ski-Doo. After all ten runs were completed we averaged each machine’s times from both riders. The Ski-Doo T3 174 had the single fastest time with Colton Green and the fastest average time followed by the Polaris Pro-RMK 155, Arctic Cat M8000, Yamaha Viper M-TX and Polaris Pro RMK 163 Terrain Dominator.

As politically correct and friendly as we try to be to our advertisers, this is a test and there can be only one winner. With such a great group of machines the test produced some really close results with a different sled taking a win in each of the three tests. Once all the data was compiled and averaged the Polaris Pro-RMK 155 with a win in the weight test and two second place finishes in acceleration and handling took the top honors in this test for the fourth consecutive year. With two thirds and a first the Ski-Doo Summit T3 174 finished second followed by the Yamaha Viper, Polaris Pro-RMK Terrain Dominator 163 and finally Arctic Cat M8000 153. However as we said at the beginning, the rider is much more of a factor than the sled itself, and in a test producing results this close this holds even more true than ever before. So before you go running to the local dealer to purchase a sled based on what you have read, know that a gym membership, riding school or change of diet will likely get you higher on the mountain than a different machine ever will.

Thanks to: The PR departments at Arctic Cat, Polaris,
Ski-Doo and Yamaha for the loan of these machines. Colton Green, Steve Sill and David McKinney for their help testing. AIM for the GPS timing equipment. Rick Stroebl, Todd Tupper and Shay Smith. Carl Solden and all the staff at Ponds Lodge.
Rider Impressions
For the model year 2015 Powder Evaluation we didn’t have much powder but, that’s the reality of snowmobiling. They aren’t all waist deep bluebird pow days, so mountain sleds need to also perform on the freezing rain graybird crusty snow days.

The sleds that I felt really shined were the Arctic Cat M8000 with 3-inch 153 track, Polaris 800 Pro-RMK 155, and the Ski-Doo Summit T3 174. These three sleds seemed to handle the best in the diverse snow conditions we faced. The horsepower of the Viper is addicting, but the sled becomes a handfull at times when there isn’t a lot of powder to work in. It also suffered from a frightening excessive smoke condition when laid on the left side in a downhill sidehill. It proved to be a standard oil overflow routing issue, but it was quite the scene. Not one I would care to repeat.

The Polaris 800 Pro-RMK Terrain Dominator died on the trail one morning after some rain. It acted as if it was a TPS issue, so we quickly disassembled the throttle block and made no progress. Then moved on to remove the hood and check the connection where the TPS meets the wiring harness. The fabric cover for the harness connectors was filled with water so the connectors were swimming. We drained the cover and disconnected the switch and blew it dry. Voila! We were back in business. While the shocks on this sled are awesome as well as the lower handlebars, it doesn’t seem to run as well as our 155 which feels more agile and sporty.
The Arctic Cat ProClimb is such a blast to ride! Great suspension in a stock sled, addictive power delivery and a 3-inch track that loves to churn the snow and take you places you just can’t go with the 2.6 Cat track.

Our 155 Pro must have been built on a Wednesday. It just flat works. The motor feels smooth and strong, the chassis is tight and super responsive, but the stock shock package leaves a bit to be desired. Off-trail it’s easy to ignore the shocks though, and the sled nimbly goes where you ask it. You actually don’t even have to ask usually, just look the direction you want to go and the sled takes you there.

The big surprise for the weekend was the T3 posting the fastest times in the handling course portion of the evaluation. I’m not surprised the T3 performed well because it’s already proven itself to be a great mountain sled. However, the handling course was long, fast in some sections, big bumps in others, and a wicked 120-degree corner right before the finish line. The Summit dominated this test of agility and maneuverability, and none of us expected that out of a 174-inch sled. This sled continues to impress. — Josh Skinner, AmSnow Mountain Test Rider
 MTN. SLEDS Weight (Lbs.)   1/8-mile
acceleration time (sec.)
1/8-mile top speed (mph)  Handling course
average time (sec.) 
 Arctic Cat M8000 153 (3” track)  566.0  10.63  56  56.87
 Polaris Pro-RMK 800 155  511.0  9.45  66  56.44
 Polaris Pro-RMK 800 163 Terrain Dominator  522.5  9.67  65  58.32
 Ski Doo Summit 800 T3 174  555.0  9.60  64  55.11
 Yamaha Viper M-TX 162 LE (Turbo)  621.5  9.32  70  57.77
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