AmSnow's Real World Powder Sled Evaluation 2016

Today's mountain snowmobiles are more equal than you think!
AmSnow Powder Sled Eval Stats 2016 Arctic Cat M 8000 Sno Pro 153
Each of our test sleds showed that they can compete, including the 2016 Arctic Cat M 8000 Sno Pro 153 (above). If you’re having performance issues, it’s might not be the sled – but you.
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos
As kids, we judged how deep the snow was based on how many hours or days it took us to break trail to the top of Providence Canyon in Utah, where I grew up. After a good powder dumping, we would spend the first whole day painfully breaking trail, returning home exhausted. We would drop into our beds sore and stiff, and wake the following morning to enjoy the fruits of our labor.
AmSnow Powder Sled Eval Stats 2016 Arctic Cat M 8000 Sno Pro 153
Test rider Josh Skinner puts the 2016 Arctic Cat M 8000 Sno Pro 153 through the Powder Eval paces.
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos
Fortunately as kids, we could find two days in a row to spend doing this. Now, thanks to advancements in the snowmobile industry, I no longer have to spend the first day of my ride digging.

My body appreciates these advances, too! Today, getting to deep powder is as easy and fast as my 15-year-old can text, and while the physical exertion is still real on a deep-pow day, it’s a pace my middle-aged “dad bod” can tolerate. Yamaha, Ski-Doo, Arctic Cat and Polaris have each developed and used technology to take their sleds to the highlands of handling and horsepower; however, each  has taken a different line to the top. And that means our test fleet for our powder evaluation was varied and awesome.  

For our powder eval this year, each of the four manufacturers provided top-of-the-line test sleds, including the Summit X T3 163 from Ski-Doo, the M 8000 Sno Pro 153 with a 2.6-inch lug from Arctic Cat, an 800 Pro-RMK 155 with QuickDrive and 2.6-inch lugs from Polaris, and a Yamaha SR Viper M-TX LE 162 equipped with 3-inch lugs and an MPI accessory turbo kit installed by Lincoln County Customs in Alpine, Wyo. The Viper also had a reinforced lightweight bumper from Zbroz Racing in Logan, Utah. 
AmSnow Powder Sled Eval Stats 2016 Polaris 800 Pro-RMK 155
Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee! The Polaris 800 Pro-RMK 155 may be a flyweight, but its handling and speed pack a punch.
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos
AmSnow Powder Sled Eval Stats 2016 snowmobile scale weight
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos
Although these machines may be capable of different feats depending on the rider, this article attempts to compare each sled, taking the “rider factor” out as much as possible, though that is a huge aspect of riding. We try to give the reader our info to help determine his or her own best ride.

The differences in the sled components did not escape us either, and the track lengths, lugs, installed turbo, etc., all factor into the outcome. The purpose of the eval is not to compare identical sleds from the four manufacturers, but to provide a sampling of stock options that are available from each manufacturer and determine how each works.

Weight test

Does this snowmobile make me look fat?

Weight is always a hot topic for mountain sleds, and many use it as the initial indicator for good performance. For this first test, each of the four machines was topped off with oil and fuel and was completely dry of any snow or ice. The sleds were then weighed using a calibrated digital scale on an overhead mechanical hoist. The Polaris 800 Pro-RMK 155 was the lightest of the group, coming in at 506.6 lbs. This was not surprising, as Polaris touted having the lightest sled this year. Once it was full of fuel and oil, however, it was heavier than we anticipated, but not by much. We were expecting it to crack the scale under 500 lbs.

The second-lightest sled was the Summit X T3 163 at 556.7 lbs., followed by the Cat M 8000 Sno Pro 153 at 564.2 lbs. The Yamaha Viper M-TX LE 162 with MPI turbo weighed in at 629.9 lbs.
AmSnow Powder Sled Eval Stats 2016 Ski-Doo Summit X T3 163
Consistent contender! Shown here with Josh Skinner (above) and Stephen Clark (below), the Ski-Doo Summit 800 163 was a contender in every category.
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos
AmSnow Powder Sled Eval Stats 2016 Ski-Doo Summit 800 163
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos
While the results of this assessment are interesting, this is not a completely fair comparison. The different track lengths are a factor, as well as fuel tank sizes. Taking these factors into account, the Polaris is still lightest and the Yamaha heaviest; but with less than 8 lbs. separating Ski-Doo and Arctic Cat, you may want to go to the gym or pack a smaller lunch if you’re looking to lose some sled weight with either of these sleds.

1/8-mile uphill straight-line acceleration test

There are many environmental factors that can affect this acceleration test.

First, you must find the right testing hill. We gave our guide, Curt Thompson, the mission of finding a hill with an overall equal grade that would allow for four straight lines to have essentially the same course with no overlapping of tracks. Curt’s expert riding skills and knowledge of the terrain led us quickly to our testing site.

The second environmental factor is snow. This year, we were blessed to have an abundance of fresh powder with a storm bringing in 18-plus inches of new snow just days before the evaluation. And while there was a little snow and blowing on the day of the test, the powder had been allowed time to settle, decreasing the avalanche danger.

The uphill straight-line acceleration test is just what is says: point the skis up, pound the throttle, and race up the hill as fast as possible. We had long-time AmSnow Test Rider, Josh Skinner, test all the sleds. This reduced the variables that come with rider bias and weight. Josh took each sled up the hill 1/8 mile in 18-20 inches of fresh, light powder. We timed each climb using an AiM SOLO GPS lap timer and tallied the results.
AmSnow Powder Sled Eval Stats 2016 acceleration testing
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos
AmSnow Powder Sled Eval Stats 2016 Yamaha SR Viper M-TX LE 162
Need for speed! With an MPI Turbo, the Viper took the uphill acceleration evaluation and left test rider Kevin Thompson smiling (trust us, he’s smiling).
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos
Not surprisingly, the boosted Yamaha Viper came in first with a time of 13.45 seconds and a high speed of 45 mph. The Cat Sno Pro was second at 14.33 seconds with a high speed of 40 mph. Third was the Ski-Doo Summit with a 14.56 time and a high speed of 35 mph. The Polaris Pro-RMK, despite being the lightest sled, had the slowest time with 14.62 seconds. However, it had a high speed of 41 mph, which was second to only the Viper.

Uphill handling/hillclimb course

The third evaluation was perhaps the most comprehensive, as it tested the agility and torque of the four machines in a way that is unique to the mountain rider. The handling course closest represents the type of riding and boondocking you will find serious mountain riders doing. This test was a RMSHA (Rocky Mountain States Hillclimb Association)-style course, with a quick start, sharp uphill corners, and some fast straight lines. We had two test riders (Josh Skinner and Lonnie Thompson) run each sled through the course and then averaged the two times.

The Polaris Pro-RMK came in first with an average time of 38.69 seconds. The Yamaha SR Viper M-TX held the fastest single time (37.03) and slowest single time (41.74) for the individual racers but averaged 39.38 seconds to come in as a silver medalist. The Ski-Doo Summit took bronze with an average time of 39.55 seconds, and just off the podium was the Arctic Cat M 8000 with an average time of 39.92 seconds.

It is interesting to note that test rider Lonnie Thompson normally rides a Ski-Doo, but he paced his fastest time riding the Viper, concluding that familiarity with a particular sled doesn’t necessarily translate into better performance.
AmSnow Powder Sled Eval Stats 2016 Polaris 800 Pro-RMK 155
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos
AmSnow Powder Sled Eval Stats 2016 Polaris 800 Pro-RMK 155
Showing the brilliance of rider and sled, the handling/hillclimb course represents what serious mountain riders love. Test rider Lonnie Thompson powers the winning Polaris 800 Pro-RMK 155 through the course.
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos
Each of our test riders (Stephen Clark, Kevin Thompson, Josh Skinner and Lonnie Thompson) had a lot of fun on the sleds, riding hard and putting them through the paces. All of the machines performed incredibly well with no mechanical issues. Ultimately, the “winner” will depend on what elements are most important to you as a rider.

We wouldn’t want to disappoint our readers by not including a declared ranking, however. With two first-place evaluations (weight and handling) and a fourth-place ranking (uphill acceleration), we give the Polaris Pro-RMK first place overall for the tested criteria. The Yamaha SR Viper M-TX came in second with a first-place (uphill acceleration), second-place (handling) and fourth-place ranking (weight). Tied for third place are the Ski-Doo Summit and the Arctic Cat M 8000, each finishing with one second-place ranking and two third-place rankings in the tests.

It should be noted that the Yamaha and Polaris were either on the top or on the bottom of the rankings in each of the evaluations. However, the Ski-Doo and the Arctic Cat both remained solid, neither sled losing much ground in any of the competitions.

It’s certainly a good time to be a mountain snowmobiler. Today, I still blaze trails up Providence Canyon, but it’s a lot less work. My younger self could have never imagined the horsepower and luxury in today’s machines. The competition between the manufacturers produces innovation and continues to drive each OEM to the next level.

Unfortunately, with a sled competition this close in all of the categories, losing in a friendly gentleman’s competition may say more about you than your sled. Surely, nobody wants to admit that they ran out of talent! So if you need an excuse to justify your defeat and don’t want to blame your skills, try attributing the loss to the weather or your contact lens; because if this evaluation has showed us anything, it’s that any of these sleds can compete head-to-head.
AmSnow Powder Sled Eval Stats 2016 mountain
AmSnow Powder Sled Eval Stats 2016 mountain snowmobiles cabin
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos

Writing about how a sled handles is like trying to express my feelings to my wife!

Sitting on the Polaris 800 Pro-RMK 155 AXYS was comfortable. The handlebars didn’t have me so far forward that my knees didn’t have room. The height of the bars were comfortable standing as well as sitting. The handling on the single-track trail into the backcountry was surprisingly stable in the corners, given the fact that my first powder turns left me looking and feeling like a rookie. It took less rider input and counter steer than what I was previously accustomed to. The suspension was not as plush on the little stutter bumps as I would prefer. The skis handled great when the snowmobile was on its edge; when it was flat, they pushed a little in the corners.

The Yamaha SR Viper M-TX LE 162 with the accessory MPI Turbo was surprisingly fun to ride. The power and track speeds are amazing. The weight was not as noticeable with a little speed. It took very little rider input and counter steer to get it to come up on edge. After it was on edge, a narrow balance point required more throttle control, rider input and pedaling to keep it where you wanted it. There was a fair amount of body roll in the looser snow. It’s comfortable sitting and standing. The ride was plush on the smaller bumps, and it also handled the bigger hits well.

The first thing I noticed about the Arctic Cat M 8000 Sno Pro 153 was the power. It really surprised me how it accelerated off the line and out of the corners. It felt really stable and flat. It didn’t roll in the corners. The skis did push through the corners rather then turn, though.

Weight transfer made the Ski-Doo Summit X T3 163 fun to ride. There wasn’t too much that was difficult to handle, it just felt very light. It was very quick to respond to rider input (sometimes too quick)! The suspension felt awesome; I really enjoyed the way it handled all the bumps, big or small. It was very plush.

– Lonnie Thompson
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