Breaking Down the 2016 800cc Mountain Sleds

Polaris, Arctic Cat, Ski-Doo: Who's looking at whose bumper?
2016 Polaris AXYS 800 Pro-RMK
Polaris AXYS 800 Pro-RMK – The lighter, slimmer Pro-RMK offers an almost perfect balance between lively and predictable.
Stephen W Clark photo
By far the biggest class in the mountains – and one of the largest in the whole industry – is the fiercely contested 800cc mountain segment. These sleds are typically ridden at power-robbing altitude, so big engines are necessary to compensate.

These days, brand loyalty is becoming a thing of the past. It’s common for riders to switch brands from year to year, opting for whatever sled is the newest leader in weight, horsepower or track technology. This buying trend has further fueled the need for manufacturers to have competitive machines. New product is showing up more in this category than in others, and all the OEMs want their piece of this segment pie.

For model year 2016, Polaris boasts the biggest change with the launch of the all-new AXYS Pro-RMK. This machine has more than 90% new parts, weighs less and has a bit more power compared to its predecessor. Arctic Cat may not have a new chassis for 2016, but the difference in handling sure feels like a whole new machine. The M sleds feature a new narrow front-end, new skis and a host of other changes that all add up to significantly better sidehill handling. Ski-Doo had a big year in 2015 with the introduction of the vastly updated T3 version of the Summit. For 2016, these changes are carried over to a 154 T3 model to go with the previously available 163 and 174.

Polaris AXYS 800 Pro-RMK
The AXYS Pro-RMK is basically a whole new sled, and it picks up where last year’s Pro-Ride Pro-RMK left off. It shares a lot of the same design concept, but it’s a drastically improved version of the old machine. The major change with the AXYS is the raised chassis. With taller spindles, the machine sits higher out of the snow for more clearance, which brings a whole slew of new benefits in climbing and sidehill handling. The chassis shares a lot of the basic geometry and design with the Pro-Ride, but it’s redesigned to be lighter with restyled bodywork.

Another big change is the introduction of new tracks: a Series 6 2.6-in. track and a Series 7 3.0-in. track (spring buy-only option). The Pro-RMK also gets the updated 800 Cleanfire H.O. engine with electronically controlled exhaust valves, electronic oil pump and a lightweight crankshaft that debuted in the 2015 AXYS trail models. According to Polaris, the net result of these changes brings the dry weight of the standard 155 Pro-RMK down from 417 lbs. to 408 lbs., and an increase in engine power results in about a 10% increase in power-to-weight ratio. That’s a HUGE gain!

Polaris has stuck with what has worked, creating a sled that has basically improved upon the Pro-Ride Pro-RMK in almost every way. The difference is similar to what we saw between the old Dragon chassis and Pro-RMK; not a huge change in the way it feels, but everything is improved, resulting in a lighter, faster and easier-to-ride machine. Put the new Pro on its edge and head into the trees! What it is capable of is astounding. It keeps ascending when it should be stuck, and the raised chassis allows it to hold a wicked-steep sidehill.
2016 Arctic Cat M 8000 Sno Pro
Arctic Cat M 8000 Sno Pro – A complete makeover to the front-end, skis, and a host of other changes over the course of the ProClimb chassis lifespan has transformed the handling of the M 8000. 2016 is the best year yet!
Stephen W Clark photo
Arctic Cat ProClimb-7 Ski
Arctic Cat's new ProClimb-7 ski.
Arctic Cat M 8000
We first got a chance to see and ride the new 2016 Arctic Cat M-series machines back in January, and we liked the changes. The Cat engineers, with the help of the crew at their mountain test facility in Idaho, have basically redesigned the front end of the machine. The A-arms and spindles are updated for a narrower ski stance (34.5-38.5 in. adjustable) along with a completely new ProClimb-7 ski. Other changes include a fixed riser block in place of the previous telescoping riser, and refinements to the rear suspension. The proven 160-hp 800 returns, but with new clutches from TEAM Industries.

The M-series has been constantly evolving since it launched, but 2016 marks a big leap forward in terms of handling. The changes to the front end result in a machine that initiates and holds a sidehill much easier. The ski offers more flotation and, overall, the machine is a lot more predictable and nimble than it was before. We also really liked the new fixed riser block. While the previous telescoping riser was a cool concept, we didn’t care for the slop it added to steering. We pretty much rode with it in the lowest position all the time anyway. The changes to the rear suspension are subtle, but definitely an improvement.

With all the newness, this sled is working significantly better than previous year models. We can’t wait for our long-term demo sled to arrive, so we can really push this sled to its limits!
2016 Ski-Doo Summit X
Ski-Doo Summit X – Solid performance is what you get with the benefits of Ski-Doo’s T3 package. The hugely popular 3-inch lugged flex-edge track now available on a shorter, more mainstream 154 track length model. This created a wildly fun machine that many consumers out west have been clamoring for, or trying to build themselves.
Stephen W Clark photo
Ski-Doo Summit 800
Ski-Doo stole the show in the 2015 season with the launch of the Summit T3 models, available with the massive 163x3-in. and 174x3-in. tracks. With those tracks came plenty of other geometry and weight-saving changes. The chassis was raised with a new spindle, weight was saved in the chaincase and rails, and it got a new ski.

While the longer-track Summits got all the glory, the popular 154 models remained the same as before. For 2016, Ski-Doo carried over the T3 changes to a 154 T3 Summit X spring buy model and the in-season Summit SP T3 models. Buyers can still get the Powdermax 2.5-in. track on the Summit SP model, but with the majority of the Summit line now using 3-in. tracks, it sure looks like 2.5-in. tracks are on their way out of the Ski-Doo line.

The Ski-Doo Summit is always a favorite here, and additional T3 models are welcomed. These sleds are built well and offer a very refined level of performance. We had  positive experiences on the 163 and 174 T3 models in 2015 model year season testing. The usability of a big-tracked mountain sled was really proven. The 3-in. track is a monster in deep snow and allows you to get away with attempting lines up, or across the hill that you didn’t think were possible before. The 154 T3 offers similar levels of traction, but doesn’t have the length to keep the front end down. That can make for a pretty exciting ride at times!

We like to declare our clear favorite in comparison articles, and based on the impressions we gained during a week of testing, the Polaris AXYS Pro-RMK was the consensus pick of these 3 in several scenarios. This machine is really light, has good power and is in a chassis with fantastic handling. Polaris still has to regain some consumer faith in terms of reliability, but it does seem that the AXYS is built better than the Pro-RMK it replaces.

The Arctic Cat is vastly improved. This machine has a great power plant and is in a really durable chassis. While a 2016 doesn’t look much different than the original 2012 ProClimb, the handling is worlds apart.

Ski-Doo is a little bit outflanked this year due to the vast changes from the other two. However, that doesn’t change the fact that the Summit is already a really good machine. The Ski-Doo is the most refined machine of this group, and will offer years of good mountain performance.
The addition of the Pilot DS 3 ski to the Summit X and SP packages for 2016 offers riders more adjustability to stay on top of the snow. The 2016 version of the
Pilot DS 3 offers an interchangeable ski tip design that allows riders to swap out to a wider or narrower ski tip depending on riding conditions. The DS 3 also offers a slightly deeper (0.47 inches) keel than the previous DS 2.

Go with the narrower ski tip (which is closer to the DS 2 design) on days with low snow or hard-packed conditions. For deep powder days, switch over to the wider ski tips for easier floatation. Swapping ski tips is easy enough; you can even change mid-ride to get the best performance from your sled for the day’s conditions.
Ski-Doo Summit X SP Pilot DS 3 ski
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