West Report: The Sweet Spot

The anticipation of the 2018 mountain sleds had the AmSnow Western crew dancing like 5-year-olds sipping Big Gulps.
2018 Ski-Doo Freeride 154 snowmobile
Take a Freeride! Come and get on the most fun mountain sled Ski-Doo makes. The Freeride 154 sure puts a smile on any rider’s face fast!
The anticipation of the 2018 mountain sleds had the AmSnow Western crew dancing like 5-year-olds sipping Big Gulps. With all the positive changes this year, I thought our test rider Lonnie might wet himself!

When I got the invite from BRP to go ride with Carl Kuster in Canada, I knew Ski-Doo had something new they were excited to share. We all speculated about the Freeride getting an upgrade to the new Rotax 850 E-TEC engine, and we were right. Still, we did not expect to be introduced to a new enhanced starting technology from BRP.

Got the SHOT

SHOT is the name of Ski-Doo’s new starting system. While electric start technology has been around for years, SHOT is so much more than that. For starters (pun intended), it is a much lighter system than your standard electric start. There isn’t a big battery, starter or ring gear. The ease of starting your sled with the push of the button often comes with an increase in weight, and in the western mountains, we are always putting our sleds on diets. The 20+ pounds added by electric start is a big deal. SHOT, however, weighs just 2 pounds, and all you have to do is pull-start your engine one time in the morning.

In a nutshell, the running engine charges the ultra capacitor. When you shut your engine off and push the SHOT button to restart, the ultra capacitor sends stored energy to the magneto, turning it into an electric motor to turn the crankshaft and start the engine. This technology is unique to Ski-Doo’s E-TEC engine, since this engine only requires 1/3 of a rotation to start. (For more technical info on the SHOT system, check out the Tech Notes article on p. 74) Ski-Doo reports that the ultra capacitor can hold a charge up to roughly 30 minutes after the engine has been shut off, but we found that it worked even after an hour.

We also tried turning the sled on and off repeatedly in quick succession, and we got it to work eight times in a row before we had to pull-start the sled again. On an average ride, we may start and stop our sleds more than 40 times, such as when the sled is in a precarious position after getting stuck or on a steep sidehill. Being able to push a button to restart your sled makes all the difference, especially when you’re sucking wind after 20 minutes of digging your machine out of a line that didn’t go your way.

SHOT was not the only remarkable thing from Ski-Doo this year. The Freeride was upgraded to the new REV Gen4 chassis and 850 E-TEC engine. It also got a promotion in track length; currently, your options are 137, 146, 154 and now 165 inches. The combination of the Freeride durability and the new Gen4 platform make this an all-around mountain slugger striking at big climbs, rough trails, daring drops and colossal kickers.

Unlike its Summit siblings, the Freeride has reinforced rails and running boards. And, with the Easy-Adjust KYB Pro rear and center shocks, it may even be possible to keep your chiropractor at bay. Riding the 2018 Freeride was impressive. Like the new Summit, it just keeps going, even when you think you should be stuck. Personally, I am a fan of the 36-inch front end on the Summit, especially for boondocking. The Freeride 154 has a ski stance of 35.8 or 37.4 in., so it excelled in sidehilling and boondocking scenarios. There is also an S-38 option on the 154 Freeride that offers a wider ski stance of 38.4 or 40.2 inches, giving you more stability for dropping cornices or riding in less than ideal snow conditions. Sidehilling is tougher, but some shock adjustments can provide a really nimble feel similar to the Summit.
2018 Polaris 800 Pro-RMK 155 snowmobile
Keep it Pro-fessional The Polaris 800 Pro-RMK 155 hasn't changed significantly for 2018, but the RMK has been the choice of dozens of pro riders for years, and the 155 is the most versatile RMK length.
Still a Pro

The 2018 sled lineup from Polaris did not see any real major changes besides the additions of the Titan 155 and SKS 146. We will discuss both of these at length
in reviews in an upcoming issue (spoiler alert: they are on point). The 800 Pro-RMK 155, besides being dressed in some new graphics, didn’t really get any major upgrades. This year, Polaris followed the old adage of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” While we like new things, we also appreciate the capabilities of a tested platform, and the AXYS is a seasoned champ.

Specifically, our crew respects the way the Pro-RMK holds a line on a steep sidehill without feeling like it wants to wash out. While it is a bit “tippier” than its competitors, this quality allows the rider to easily pull the sled on its side to initiate an uphill turn and carve in deep powder.

A proven quality of this sled is its ability to swiftly surface in deep snow. It also has a knack for holding a straight line without any bad sway from side to side. While it does not come with a stock 36-inch front end, we are not left wanting. The 39-inch stance fits this sled very well. Compared to its competitors, the AXYS design has a 36-inch feel when sidehilling, navigating through trees and pulling the sled in the direction you want it to go.

Out of the box, the Pro-RMK’s clutching is spot on, with good response from the bottom to the top. Although this sled pushed a bit more through tight turns around trees, its ability to respond to rider input helps to neutralize this issue. Ultimately, this sled wants you to stand up and be aggressive with it, making it an ideal ride for those that want to take charge.
2018 Arctic Cat M 8000 Mountain Cat 153 snowmobile
A New Breed of Mountain Cat Thanks to the narrower chassis and running boards, rider-forward stance and slimmer plastics, the Arctic Cat M 8000 Mountain Cat 153 has a completely different feel in 2018. Steep sidehills are no match for the new Ascender platform.
Better M-Sleds

The surprise of 2018 was the new Arctic Cat, with a large list of upgrades in the revamped M Series. This includes the new C-TEC2 engine with dual-stage injection, built right here in the USA. With the new Team Rapid Response II drive clutch and an idler bearing on the main shaft, you won’t need to worry about adjusting your belt as it wears. With this clutch, belt deflection is no longer an issue.

All of these upgrades come in the new Ascender platform. The new chassis is 10% narrower overall, the running boards are one inch narrower, and the rider stance is two inches forward. The slimmer plastics allow for steeper sidehilling without paneling out in the snow and lifting the sled out of its line. These changes translate into a completely different feel.

The positive proof is in the new 153 Sno Pro and Mountain Cat; both have exceptional performance in the bottom and mid-range, and they also responded incredibly well to rider input. We rode them in a variety of conditions, and we were impressed at how easy it was to adapt. Sidehilling was easier in the new Ascender platform, and both sleds held a line and found the “sweet spot” with ease.

Our favorite features on the Mountain Cat are the FOX Float QS3 front suspension and QSL rear suspension. The lock-out option on the rear suspension allows a rider to hit a steep hill and keep more track on the ground. This keeps the front end planted so you are not fighting for control up the hill. Just don’t forget to change it back when you get to a bumpy trail.

The 2018 M Series sleds are lighter, nimbler, and have more power, all of which equate to an elevation in fun factor. If you’re a Team Green fan, prepare to have your mind blown. If you aren’t, then this is the year to check Cat out!
2018 Yamaha Sidewinder M-TX LE 153 snowmobile
Slide onto the Sidewinder! Then hold on tight, because 200+ horses pull just as hard as you would imagine! The speed, climbing ability and durability of this Yamaha 153 all translate to fun for the thrill seeker or mountain missile in your group!
Turbo 153 is Pure Fun

This year marks Yamaha’s 50th anniversary of manufacturing snowmobiles, and it is celebrating by coming out with some pretty cool mountain-specific changes. New graphics are the first things people will notice, and there are quite a few options available. Also, FOX QS3 shocks will be part of the lineup. We have been running the QS3 shocks on our AmSnow sled build this year, and we have been extremely impressed with their performance. With three different settings, you can go from a plush ride to a stiff ride easily and quickly. As with the Mountain Cat, you also get the option of a QSL rear shock lock-out for those steep pulls, resulting in a more planted feel.

The 2018 Sidewinder lineup gets narrower running boards and a chassis similar to the new Mountain Cat. The drop-and-rolled chaincase and eight-tooth sprocket improve the approach angle. This helps the sled come up on top of the snow more quickly, especially in deep powder.
The 998cc Genesis turbo is an amazing motor with a very linear power band. This sled feels like it never stops pulling. The torque and power also make it feel lighter than it actually is. Don’t be fooled by the weight-watchers. The 153-inch Sidewinder M-TX is a mountain monster that will eat up anything you throw at it, including deep powder, steep climbs, sidehills and tight trees. With its 36-inch-wide front end, it is much easier to navigate than you’d expect for a sled this size.

With a full range of upgrades from each manufacturer, the Western team is excited about the upcoming riding season. See you on the mountain soon!
Kevin Thompson
2018 Test Rider Impressions


Ski-Doo Freeride 154: The SHOT system is so cool and easy to use, especially when you are in a bit of a pickle in the trees or a steep sidehill. This machine has exceptional rider response, but it will get you into trouble if you give it too much input. The suspension and steering are effortless, the KYB shocks are easy to adjust, and the throttle response will pull your hands off the grips. It likes to wash out a little more than the others on a sidehill, but it also wanted to go up easier. I felt less worn out on this sled.

Polaris 800 Pro-RMK 155: I really like the pep this machine has, and the 2.6-inch lug track hooks on the harder pack trails. It’s nimble and responsive. The vertical steering is hard for me to get used to, and it does like to push in the front end when being aggressive in the corners. I also found that my boots kept getting stuck in the foot loops. I like the placement of the hand controls and the dash pod, but I really wish there was a back-up alarm. It can be hard to see the yellow “R” in the sunshine. This sled sticks to a sidehill, and it would be really fun with a turbo!

Arctic Cat M 8000 Mountain Cat 153: The first thing I noticed was the narrower running boards; my boots got stuck up in the foothold, and I only wear a size 9 boot. Great throttle response, and the track hooks up really well. I personally struggle with the vertical steering post, so this machine took me a bit to get used to, but once I did I really liked it! It tends to push a bit in the corners. I did not find myself fighting the countersteer on sidehills as much as I did on the Polaris and the Ski-Doo. Cat did a phenomenal job with the chassis and the plastics, making it one of the best for boondocking.

Yamaha Sidewinder M-TX LE 153: Although this machine is heavier than the rest, you don’t feel it until you get stuck, and then you need to call your friends to help. The steering still pushes in front, but it was easier to boondock the trees than I thought it would be. It holds the line on a sidehill, but prefers the straight-up shot. Deep snow hookup is incredible with the 3-inch lug, but you have to let off the throttle sometime. When you do, be ready for the front end to dive. Needs more storage.
Lonnie Thompson

Ski-Doo Freeride 154: The 850 E-TEC is fast-revving, responsive and smooth. Every time I get on this sled, I have a blast. Not having a foot enclosure felt pretty uncomfortable at first, but now I love the freedom of the open design.

Polaris 800 Pro-RMK 155: The 155 is the friendliest track size in the Polaris lineup. It’s easy, fun to ride, and great all-around for most snow conditions. On a sidehill in spring snow, this sled really grabs the mountain.

Arctic Cat M 8000 Mountain Cat 153:
The changes made for this model made a huge difference in the way it handles. It has a familiar, light feel. The new motor and clutches combine for a smooth, crisp throttle response. The lock-out on the rear skid is a super feature.

Yamaha Sidewinder M-TX LE 153: Past 4-strokes have put a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths, and that’s too bad. If you haven’t had the chance to ride a Sidewinder yet, then you should.The power and torque is unmatched by any other production sled. I have never had a disappointing ride on this, but you work harder, and you definitely know you rode a 4-stroke.
Want to leave a comment?
Only registered members of AmSnow.com are allowed to leave comments. Registration is FREE and only takes a couple minutes.

Login or Register now.
Sign up for our free newsletter
By signing up you may also receive reader surveys and occasional special offers. We do not sell, rent or trade our email lists. View our Privacy Policy.