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West Report: Wow in the Pow!

Three of the hottest new 2019 powder sleds do battle
2019 Arctic Cat M8000 Mountain Cat Alpha One 165
If thunder-snow is made by new sleds, 2019 will be a noisy year!

Arctic Cat dropped the peak-seeking Alpha One suspension technology bomb on the market and Polaris said KaPOW with an uppercut to the competition introducing the all new Patriot 850. This made us all have to specify which manufacturer we are referring to when talking about the “850.” No more can you say “hey what do you think of the 850?” Plus, Ski-Doo expanded the SHOT program. Nowhere is the competition hotter in the mountains than in the 165-inch track range … and that is what we have here! We compared the Alpha One 165, Pro RMK 163, and Summit SP 165.

The new tech and motors that were introduced this year were speculated about especially after RMSHA (Rocky Mountain States Hillclimb Association) dropped the 800 class (the most popular) in favor of a new 900 class which Ski-Doo had been asking for since the release of their 850 in 2016. All this took place after a conference call between Arctic Cat, Polaris and Ski-Doo. Reading between the lines I knew it had to be Polaris that had an updated engine since Arctic Cat had just released its 800 C-TEC2. We were pretty sure the Patriot 850 from Polaris was on its way.

Fast-forward a few months to Snow Shoot where all speculation and rumors over the previous months were more solidly confirmed or shot down. Snow Shoot is where the manufacturers allow the media to see all their new line-ups and ride them before the next model year. Sure enough, the sneak peeks, and all the talk was true as there it was, the tangible proof that indeed the new Patriot 850 was ready to hit the snow. We knew ardent Polaris riders were going to be on cloud nine, but sitting across the way was the new Cat Alpha One. We were equally interested to see how this new incredibly radical tech from Arctic Cat would perform.

We got some early test ride time on the new Alpha One at a closed event in January, and after that time I was anxious to throw a leg over it for an extended few days. I was hungry for another ride! Our test riders were absolutely chomping at the bit to see just how well it performed, especially in comparison to the other top mountain sleds.

Ski-Doo set the bar high when it released the Gen4 chassis two years earlier and their 850. It was basically a new sled from the ground up. In MY2017 Ski-Doo threw the playbook out and re-wrote the paradigm for 2-stroke technology in mountain sleds with 849ccs of second generation E-TEC technology.

Polaris and Cat will be getting most of the attention in 2019 since there were not really any changes in the mountain segment for Ski-Doo and Yamaha as far as the 170+ hp sleds go. Ski-Doo did announce its new 600R E-TEC and that will be a high level over-performing 600 mountain sled, we feel. You can read my thoughts on the new 600R from Ski-Doo in March 2018 issue.
2019 Arctic Cat M8000 Mountain Cat Alpha One 165
■ Arctic Cat M 8000 Mountain Cat Alpha One 165
Arctic Cat released the Alpha One this past spring and surprised almost everyone with its single-beam rear suspension. With the backing of Textron many of us expected to see big changes, but we did not foresee anything like this! The Alpha One suspension consists of an extruded aluminum beam with magnesium attachment points and Fox Float 3 QSL rear shock (giving the rider the lockout option) and QS3 center shock. There’s also a longer 165 next-gen Power Claw track (new this year) that was designed specifically for the Alpha One. All this brought the weight down 11 pounds on the Mountain Cat. That is significant, considering that in our real world weight tests last year the Mountain Cat 153 was the lightest sled in our fleet both in the dry weight category at 550 pounds and the in-field wet weight test at 593.5 pounds. The in-feild weight was only a 7.9% increase. (See the March 2018 issue for full details.)

The new Power Claw track is a 3.5-inch pitch instead of 3-inch which helped reduce the weight. Also the pros with Ski-Doo’s 3.5-inch pitch track agree that it hooks up incredibly well. I would like to see all of the manufactures go to a 3.5-inch pitch. The new Power Claw track also only has windows in the center of the track that align with the monorail.

There are many benefits to the single-beam rail. First, it makes the sled feel very flexible and easy to maneuver. You will more than likely override it the first time you get on it. I did, despite the many verbal warnings I got. After five minutes on the sled, or once you get used to it, your riding level and confidence go up a notch. This is a sled that made me look at terrain and what was possible in a whole new light. Simple foot pressure and body movements made the sled respond incredibly well. With very little input you could shoot tree gaps and angles that otherwise took a much slower approach and more technical rider input. We hear a lot of people compare the new Alpha One suspension to tMotion, but it is NOT like tMotion. Alpha One utilizes a single pivot point to conform to the hill and feels completely different. This is one sled you just have to ride to really appreciate how different it is.

The other benefit is that it sheds snow like a popsicle in the desert. We rode it for seven days across one month, including very deep powder days and it held very little snow. There simply is not anywhere for it to get trapped and stay. The only place we found snow accumulating was up by the front shock. But even then, it was minimal and typically did not stay there very long. This is significant considering snow buildup accounts for a lot of excess weight while riding, can affect how the sled responds, and certainly contributes to rider fatigue.
2019 Arctic Cat M8000 Mountain Cat Alpha One 165
Cat also dropped the driveshaft 1.125 inches giving it increased tunnel clearance and allowing them to go to 8-tooth drive sprockets lowering the approach angle by 9.7 degrees making the Alpha One float better and handle easier. It will most certainly give Ski-Doo and Polaris a run for their money. Also, while it is an 800 and not an 850, it can move out fast.

It will be interesting to see how the Alpha One does in spring hard pack. Since the track conforms to the hill it may have a tendency to wash more instead of bite in and hold an edge. This was brought up a lot in our initial discussion with the marketing and engineering teams. They don’t try to make excuses or claim that it won’t because that is not what it was built for. Where you will really appreciate the new Alpha One is in the deep powder and socked-in trees.

In an earlier article, I stated that you won’t be racing it down the trail. HOWEVER, after more trail time on it, I think it handles just fine. I actually have GoPro footage going almost 60 mph down the trail around turns for several minutes. So by all means ride the trail with it!

Some added features that are new and worth mentioning include a new tether. I can’t emphasize how important these are. Until you have seen firsthand what happens when you don’t have a tether when you need it, you can’t fully appreciate how important this is. Now we just need two other manufactures to add them. It also has a new stealth lightweight master cylinder brake system from Hayes which gives better braking power with less force required. The new Proclimb-7 G2 skis are shaped for better flotation and do not have the chatter that we have experienced in the past. Finally, improved hand controls make things more easy to access, as well as more heat levels for your hands and thumbs.
2019 Polaris Pro RMK 850 163
■ Polaris Pro RMK 850 163
This was the most anticipated and hoped for change in 2019 for Polaris folks in the mountain Axys chassis. A lot of Polaris die-hards talked about how this was going to be the year of a bigger engine. Polaris did not disappoint, with the release of the Patriot 850 the game is now on.

Polaris says this motor has the best power-to-weight ratio in the industry, as well as the most durable and responsive sled. Plus, they claim unrivaled acceleration. The new piston is optimized for reliability and durability with +8mm compression height, +3mm thicker dome, better heat transfer, PVD-coated steel single-ring design and high-capacity wrist pin. There’s a new lightweight crankshaft, new water bottle with integrated thermostat and new engine mounting (which was noticeable from the very first powder turn and sidehill we made on the new 850).

All of this means the 850 is a better, more efficient engine than ever before, and that Polaris is confident it will outperform the other brands … so much so that they are doing a standard four-year warranty on the new Patriot 850! That is a bold move that speaks volumes to how much they have tried and tested this new motor as well as how much they believe in it! Polaris had been testing the Patriot 850 for over four years making sure they got it right. Backing a 1.0 release with that kind of warranty hits home with people who would normally wait for the 2.0 release before buying.

The new 850 certainly will run with the Ski-Doo 850. Yes we get that clutching, track lengths etc. play a factor in any kind of comparison, but you will need to wait until our Real World Powder Eval article to see just how these sleds compare head to head in our independent data-driven tests. So far, apples to apples, we are very impressed! The very first ride on this sled I noticed that it built speed fast and the power was linear from low end to top end and was incredibly responsive. If you let off the throttle at 15 mph or 50 mph and got back on it, it was crisp and responsive without missing a beat.

I had really hoped to see a 3.5-inch pitch and a tether for the new 2019. I think the 3.5-inch pitch has a better hook up in almost all snow conditions. Don’t get me wrong, the new Patriot 850 had no problem hooking up and running as fast as or faster than the sleds with the 3.5-inch pitch, but imagine how much better it would be with it. Maybe that is coming! The sled is already great when it comes to climbing on top of the snow quickly. Also, again, for mountain sleds, tethers should be standard. I have yet to hear a valid reason why it is not.
2019 Polaris Pro RMK 850 163
The new Patriot 850 is mounted differently under the hood and the running boards got a makeover too. The new React front suspension feels noticeably different as well in the deep powder and on sidehills. I immediately noticed this on the first long side hill we cut across. It felt much more planted without fighting me in the steering or wanting to kick me out of the line. It was much easier to control, and it was already an easy chassis to control before this!

The new React 36-38 inch adjustable front end makes a huge difference in this area. Also new for the 2019 is an upgrade in the rear suspension including new lightweight components like a new front track shock cross shaft and an all new hyfax design optimized for lighter weight while maintaining durability.

We had the chance to get the new 850 out in our neck of the woods thanks to Brett Jensen and Polaris and we can report that it really turned heads and made quick work against its 800 Pro RMK predecessor.
2019 Ski-Doo Summit SP 850 165
■ Ski-Doo Summit SP 850 165
Two seasons and thousands of mountain riding miles on the Ski-Doo 850 in the backcountry had us nearly speaking like our French Canadian friends. This year we have been impressed with the little brother version of the 850 E-TEC, the all new 600R engine. It comes in the Gen4 platform with the option for a track length of up to 154, but we would love to see this engine come with a 165-inch track length and three-inch lug option!

Not a whole lot changed with the Summit 850 chassis and engine for 2019, but don’t let that fool you. The snowmobile industry is a constant game of leapfrog. It has been less than 36 months since we first saw the 850 E-TEC and it has been made better since then.

The Summit SP 850 E-TEC 165 more than holds its own ground. Even without any major changes for 2019 other than new color options there’s still a lot we love about this sled. Some of our likes include its short, easy turning radius, and it’s one of the easiest sleds to ride, so it’s a perfect fit for almost anyone. We still debate internally and externally on exactly how much we like the tMotion and FlexEdge technology, but there’s no debate on the power the 850 E-TEC puts to the track. It’s glorious. Until the release of the Alpha One it was the only 3.5-inch pitch and it grips snow like a Leopard carrying it’s pray up a tree. The combination of the wider 16-inch footprint and the 3.5-inch pitch makes all the difference in the world, it is the sled that just keeps going. We are constantly impressed with the places this nimble, light, agile and fast, sled can take us.

The out of the box suspension on this sled is one of the best. It is not the top of the line for what Ski-Doo offers in sleds like the Freeride, but it is plush and capable. Additionally, it is the easiest turning sled on the market, hands down.

We would love to see an updated gauge display, something easier to read and less susceptible to being covered with snow, but really if this is one of the few things we can come up with then that should impress in itself. Ski-Doo also offers a ton of options for making your sled fit your needs including the new adjustable riser for straight handlebars on the new Summit and Freeride, handlebar extension kits, heavy duty bumpers, bags, new LinQ removable snowflap, remote limiter strap adjuster and the list goes on.
■ Who’s on top?
Each manufacturer eventually has its day on top and right now the two hot rides are the Mountain Cat Alpha One the new Pro RMK with the Patriot 850. They are two totally different beasts, as is the Summit. Ultimately the consumers will decide with their pocket books and the Pro RMK wins in the value battle, priced less than the others and coming with a four-year warranty. But remember the Summit 165 won just about every test in our Real World Powder Sled Eval last year … however, we think the Pro RMK 850 is going to be competing for #1 with the Alpha One!
2019 Ski-Doo Summit SP 850 165 2019 Polaris Pro RMK 850 163 2019 Arctic Cat Mountain Cat Alpha One 165
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