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2019 Real World Powder Shootout

Long tracks and deep lugs
When new sleds come out, it makes for a great opportunity to look back and see how last year’s models performed over the course of the season. Each was tested in various conditions, by multiple riders, and over the course of almost three months. The sleds have seen all this season has to offer, from sketchy early-season low snow, mid-season deep powder, trail riding, tree dodging, boondocking, hill climbing, flying off cornices and taking on big kickers. The sleds have been out in blizzards and blue-bird days, in cold and temperate weather, and we are here to give you the results.

■ Ski-Doo Summit X 175 850

Not a whole lot changed with the chassis and engine in the 2019 line up of Ski-Doo sleds from the previous year, but this didn’t put Ski-Doo at a disadvantage. The Summit is almost always a test rider favorite due to the short turning radius and general ease of driving. It is light, maneuverable, responsive and fast.

We found in our testing that beginners fared better on this sled as it is simply an easy machine to ride. However, there were mixed reviews from the experienced riders on the tMotion and FlexEdge Technology, with some singing its praises and others claiming it inhibited their riding experience.

The suspension is great out of the box, and Ski-Doo has made the sled customizable with a new adjustable riser for straight handlebars, handlebar extension kits, heavy duty bumpers, bags, a new LinQ removable snow flap, remote limiter strap adjuster, etc. One of our favorite customizable items was the LinQ removable snow flap for those deep powder days. You don’t realize how much the snow flap affects the way you ride on a deep powder day until you ride without it. There is less drag, more area for snow to evacuate and less resistance to keep the back end from sinking in and hooking up better. The other accessory that we really liked was the LinQ ski rack. These are easy to put on and take off and they are rock solid at securing your snowboard or skis. You also don’t need to worry about your skis or board getting in your way as they are secured in an area that keeps your feet free to move up and down the running boards.
■ Polaris Pro-RMK 163 850
Polaris answered Ski-Doo’s 850 E-TEC engine with their own power house – the Patriot 850. Touted as the best power-to-weight ratio in the industry, this engine was highly anticipated and widely enjoyed by all test riders throughout the season.

There were several factors we noticed that were exceptional with the Patriot. It built speed quickly, was linear, and very responsive. Additionally, there were other changes that gave the Polaris better control in deep powder and sidehilling, including new running boards, and the new React 36- 37 - 38-inch adjustable front suspension.

Where we truly noticed the difference between the Patriot and its 800 sibling was in the steep climbs and the deep tree boondocking. You really notice the extra power of the 850 specifically with throttle response, which provides the momentum and track speed when you need it most.

While it is still the same chassis, it feels much different, and better. The mount and fit of the new 850 engine changed the overall balance points. We noticed a subtle but positive difference in the ride. This is truly a boondocking beast.
■ Yamaha Sidewinder M-TX LE 162
Although not much has changed with this year’s rocket ship, aka Yamaha Sidewinder, it is still one of the most fun sleds in our lineup. This is due to the speed and forearm-numbing torque it produces.

Its low stance and 36-inch front end make it relatively easy to maneuver, especially in tight technical situations. Whether dodging trees, or tearing down the straightaway, this agile monster should really be seen more in the backcountry.

As a 4-stroke, it has a beefier front end and a tendency to dive when you’re not on the throttle. The added weight, however, works for you by keeping your skis more grounded when you have a fist full of throttle. While the weight tends to be most riders’ hang-up, the torque gives it a very light feel. And, while this power can make it a bit difficult for the track to hook up, it is virtually unstoppable once it does, powering through whatever terrain the backcountry throws at it.

Once you develop the arm strength to handle this machine, it is an easy one to operate, and the longevity of the 4-stroke engine may save you in the long run, if you are looking to have the same sled for the long term, not to mention the savings you’ll get in oil expense.
■ Arctic Cat Alpha One 165
Admittedly, the Alpha is the sled that has seen the least number of miles in the saddle by our test riders. This is due to the popularity of the sled, which led to a lack of test models given for media long-term testing. However, we have spent some time on it in various conditions, and one was made available to us for our powder evaluation.

The new Alpha One suspension consists of an extruded aluminum beam with magnesium attachment points, Fox Float 3 QSL (giving the rider a lockout option) and QS3, with the new PowerClaw track. This suspension was flexible and easy to maneuver. While I did override it the first time I got on it, once acclimated I could shoot tree gaps and angles that otherwise took a much slower approach and more technical rider input.

Do not underestimate this sled because it’s an 800. It had no problem keeping up with or leading in every snow scenario. If you are stuck in a riding rut and are looking to take your riding ability to the next level this is the perfect sled for you.

“After taming the stallion in it, you feel like you’re on a sure-footed horse that knows the terrain better than you do. Simply let it do its thing and don’t fight it,” said test rider Kevin Thompson.
■ In-field testing
The in-field testing is always something that sounds easy on paper, but takes some planning and prep to make it a success. While all the sleds are stock, they must be broken in. This requires each sled to have a certain amount of miles or hours put on before the evaluation so they are running at their maximum potential.

This year’s testing was done on an extremely cold day in Providence Canyon in northern Utah. This canyon is known for its varying terrain and steep climbs. It was a little snowy, with flat light and low visibility. We started the day with 18 inches of new snow, however, the conditions were much different than last year. This year’s snow density was only 4.5 percent water content, which is very dry. These dry flakes don’t stick to the machines as much.

■ Uphill 1/8th-mile speed test

While this test was performed in a remote location that was technically challenging to get to, it provided a fantastic climb on a 59-degree slope where each sled could have a fresh line, and nearly identical conditions. Test rider Lonnie Thompson (who only weighs a buck fifty) took each sled two times up for the fastest possible assent. The best run for each sled counted as its recorded time.

It’s not surprising that the Yamaha Sidewinder Turbo was up the hill the fastest (almost two and a half seconds faster than its closest competitor), but what did surprise us was the AC Alpha One came in second, proving that it can compete with the 850s.

The Alpha and the Summit had the best get-up-and-go times. This may be due in part to both tracks having a 3.5 pitch, allowing for more snow to get between the lugs for additional traction. This advantage is more noticeable on deep powder days.
■ Shop wet weight and in-field wet weights
For the shop wet weights, we take the sleds as they are, stock, and top them off with fuel, oil and coolant and put them on the scale.

In field wet weight tests, after a three-hour ride in 18 inches of new snow, each sled gets weighed from an old game-hanging roost without brushing any snow off. We received a lot of help from Zbroz, a sled accessory manufacturer, and appreciated their added input and expertise.

Last year, with sticky wet snow, this test showed remarkable differences in weight as the snow that hung onto the sleds was heavy and plentiful. This year, it was blower Utah champagne snow, meaning the snow didn’t stick to the sleds because of its low moisture content. Utah claims to have the best snow on Earth, because it is light and fluffy.

Important Considerations: As a turbo, the Sidewinder burned the most fuel during the ride which most likely contributed to its remarkably low weight gain in the field. However, the Sidewinder also generates more track speed so it is possible this too contributed to the low gain.

The RMK and Summit were within just a few pounds of each other, and as the Ski-Doo had the longer and wider track it would make sense that it would hold a little more weight.

The Alpha proved itself to be a snow-shedding machine. There is simply less for the snow to hold on to with a single beam suspension. Additionally, the single beam helps the Cat with a low starting shop weight, so the innovations Arctic Cat has implemented are multidimensional.

The fleet of snowmobiles this year was nothing short of impressive, and we are still out riding and gathering data. Follow us on your favorite social media platform or for all the latest action.
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