AmSnow's Real World Shootout 2016

Time to get real at this 12th annual event!
AmSnow Real World Shootout 2016 snowmobiles Arctic Cat Polaris Ski-Doo Yamaha
Sleds at attention! Just about ready to report for duty on our 1/4-mile acceleration course, all of our demo sleds have their tracks tightened, fluids topped, suspensions set and more before they are tested.
Mark Boncher
One great workout! That’s how I’d describe the riding of the trails at our test location in the northern Midwest for our 2016 Real World Shootout.

The trails had snow on them, but the holiday season traffic had really taken its toll, especially since people were concentrated to ONLY trail riding in a few select riding areas around the country early this season. The lakes were super sketchy due to thin ice in many spots, and a lack of snow made grip impossible for anyone without studded tracks. Needless to say, it was a workout to get all of our sleds broken in correctly, given the conditions ... and many miles of moguls!

However, the snow gods were smiling on us, and we got several inches of white gold just about every day we were testing at the Real World Shootout. As I write this, trails and conditions are much improved throughout the entire snowbelt.
AmSnow Real World Shootout 2016 Arctic Cat ZR 9000 Limited turbo
It was no surprise that the Cat ZR 9000 turbo sled had the highest top speed, considering it was Woody's studded and has 180 hp!
Mark Boncher
AmSnow Real World Shootout 2016 Castle X gear speed test
Test rider weight = 210 lbs. Geared up, fed, and with radar star.
Mark Boncher
In the end, our Real World Shootout was a success, and we’ve got tons of interesting info for you to digest while you are riding in the truck to your next sledding  destination!

What is This All About?

For those of you who are first-time American Snowmobiler subscribers, our Real World Shootout happens every year, and it is our chance to truly test our own “demo sleds” without interference from manufacturers or the public. Our first job at the Shootout is to fully “break in” the sleds. For some sleds, this process is fairly long. For the last few years, Ski-Doo’s E-TEC sleds have come with a break-in “countdown timer.” The countdown (percentage of break-in remaining) shows on the dash of the machine each time you start it. The amount remaining stays there for a few seconds before the screen returns to the normal digital display.

How long does it take for a normal break-in, you ask? Well, back in the day, a basic rule of thumb for many people breaking in a standard 2-stroke was at least the first tank of fuel you ran with a tiny bit of extra oil in it. Then for roughly the first two tanks, you did not flog or hammer the throttle for prolonged wide-open runs. We like to put on a minimum of 300 miles before we consider any of our new sleds really broken in. However, the new Ski-Doo E-TEC sleds have all taken a minimum of 400 miles to finish the break-in countdown process. That means a good amount of riding before we do acceleration or mileage testing.

Before we do ANY riding on our new sleds, we fill them up with gas and oil and fluids to take a “wet weight” with our easy-to-use and accurate Intercomp Racing floor scales. Incidentally, our Western Editor Ryan Thompson is also hard at work completing the Real World Powder Sled Eval while we are doing the trail sleds. The Powder Sled Eval also includes wet weight testing, hillclimbing and other tests.

On some of the more powerful trail sleds, we also choose to add studs. We usually take weights with those and any other add-ons installed on the sleds. We want to know the weight of an average sled that an average rider would take out in average conditions – extra belt, factory tool kit and all! That is a MUCH more accurate picture than skewed dry weights. This year, we also weighed our test rider with full gear on at 210 lbs. We only studded two sleds (Ski-Doo X-RS 800 and Cat ZR 9000), so those are the only sleds with traction products on them.
AmSnow Real World Shootout 2016 Ski-Doo X-RS
Overacheivers in the 800 and 600 classes were the Ski-Doo X-RS (above) and the Polaris Switchback 600 Pro-S (below). The Pro-S was arguably the most impressive to our test riders, both after looking at the numbers and after hundreds of trail miles.
Mark Boncher
AmSnow Real World Shootout 2016 Polaris 600 Switchback Pro-S
Mark Boncher
Once the weigh-ins and break-ins are done, we spend several hours going through all the sleds again with a fine-tooth comb. Track tensions and alignments are checked, carbides are checked, studs are tightened (if needed), hyfax are inspected, oil and fuel are topped off, and then we’re off to our acceleration testing course. Usually we do this on a widely groomed area of a lake that has been well manicured for us, but with the lack of safe ice this year, we moved to an undisclosed long, wide, trail road. Grip was challenging, but conditions were much safer than on the lakes.

Check out all the charts to compare the 2016 demo sleds in wet weights, acceleration times through the ¼ mile, top speed and initial mileage (mpg) testing. We will have full-season mileage results in each of the Long Term Test articles we do on these machines starting in the October Buyers Guide issue of the upcoming season.

The Weigh-In

Before we pull the sleds out of the trailers, we put them on the scales to see exactly what they weigh before you ride. The lightest of all the sleds was the only 600 (not surprisingly), and it didn’t have studs on it, but the weight difference was significant. At 559 lbs., the Polaris AXYS Switchback Pro-S 600 was 22 lbs. lighter than the next lightest machine, the Ski-Doo Renegade Backcountry. 

The 600 Switchback was also 124 lbs. lighter than the heaviest sled in our group, the Arctic Cat ZR 9000, which tipped the scales at a whopping 683 lbs. (with studs installed). Incidentally, the 600 Switch-back Pro-S was 7 lbs. lighter than the 800 Switchback Pro-S we weighed last year.

The Cat XF 8000 Crosstrek was the second bulkiest sled, weighing 637 lbs. This did not have studs, but it included the stock saddlebags that come with the machine for 2016. It was 15 lbs. heavier than the Cat XF 8000 Sno Pro we tested last year. Yamaha, which often gets hammered by consumers for being heavy, faired very well. The longer Viper 137-inch L-TX LE, with the extra factory-approved turbo installed, weighed in at just 630 lbs.
AmSnow Real World Shootout 2016 Arctic Cat XF 8000 Crosstrek orange
Orange ya happy to be riding? Absolutely! And bad jokes aside, the new universal color for all OEMs is orange. Our Cat Crosstrek (above) and Polaris Switchback Pro-X (below) both sported it, but the Pro-X 800 won the weight and acceleration matchup between these two. The Cat handily won the mileage test, which was surprising because the Cat 800 traditionally has not been as good on fuel.
Mark Boncher
AmSnow Real World Shootout 2016 Polaris 800 Switchback Pro-X
Mark Boncher
Another pleasant surprise was the light weight of the 800cc Ski-Doo Backcountry 146 at a svelt 571 lbs. That is pretty light for a super-long crossover sled, and actually
one pound lighter than the Backcountry X from a year prior that had a shorter, 137-inch track.

Another interesting comparison can be made between the 2016 Polaris 800 Switchback Pro-X and the 800 Pro-S model from 2015. With the bulky Polaris Pro-Fit rack attached to it, the Pro-X weighed in at 592 lbs.; last year’s Pro-S weighed 567 lbs. without the rack.

Finally, the new Ski-Doo X-RS was in the middle of the pack as far as weight goes, registering 604 lbs. with studs installed.   

That Accelerated Quickly!
Traction products made the difference in our acceleration testing this year, as evidenced by the top speeds, times and acceleration off the line and all the way through top end. However, it’s typically our higher horsepower sleds that get studded, obviously. Our Cat ZR 9000 Limited turbo had the highest top speed at 106.56 mph and the quickest ¼-mile time at 12.72 seconds. The only place in the acceleration stats that the Cat was beaten was in the 0-30 mph range, where the Ski-Doo X-RS 800 was the quickest of all our sleds (1.88 seconds).

The second-fastest top speed was set by the Yamaha Viper with the approved MPI turbo on it. At 102.2 mph, this was a very impressive sled, especially considering the sled was not studded, so it was difficult to get traction consistently with this big turbo. Still, it was consistently faster (mph) than any sled other than the Cat turbo. Had the Yamaha been studded, I personally think you could have flipped a coin to see which sled would have had the better numbers.

The Ski-Doo X-RS 800 posted the second-quickest elapsed time in the ¼ mile (13.23 seconds), besting the Yamaha by just a few hundredths of a second. Remember, though, that the X-RS had studs, so traction was not a problem. The X-RS had the first- or second-best elapsed times throughout every data point in the run, so the Woody’s Gold Digger studs did their jobs!

The little Polaris 600 Switchback that could was really a star all week, proving in almost every turn, grab of the throttle, scale test and more that this 600 is an incredible overachiever. In acceleration testing, the 600 Switchback had a top speed of 87.77 mph, which was faster than the Cat Crosstrek 800 and less than 0.84 mph slower than the Ski-Doo Backcountry 800 and the Polaris 800 Switchback Pro-X. In the ¼ mile, the Polaris 600 was also at a higher speed than the Backcountry 800. Now, in all truth, the 600 Switchback had a 1.25-inch lug track, while these three other sleds had slightly larger lugged tracks, and the elapsed time in the ¼ mile was not as close as the top speeds seemingly indicate, but the 600 was giving up at least 25-30 horsepower to all the 800 sleds, so the results were still impressive.
AmSnow Real World Shootout 2016 radar gun
Mark Boncher
AmSnow Real World Shootout 2016 Yamaha SR Viper L-TX LE turbo
White, red and fun all over! The big turbo Yamaha was one of the fastest sleds in the stable, but more importantly, it handled the rough trail conditions with ease, a hair behind the X-RS and 600 Switchback.
Mark Boncher
The Renegade Backcountry 800 was also somewhat of a surprise in the acceleration test. Even with its longer, softer lugs and long track, the Backcountry seemed to get more traction out of the gate, as its 0-30 times were quicker than the Crosstrek and Switchback 800s.

Unfortunately, we were unable to get data on the Cat XF 8000 Crosstrek for a ¼-mile time and mph, but it would have most likely fallen between the Polaris 600 Switchback and the Polaris 800 Switchback in the rankings for speed and elapsed time in the ¼ mile.

Mid-Season Impressions: The Good
The Arctic Cat Crosstrek was getting 15.94 mpg in early season testing. This is almost unbelievable considering that historically, Cat’s 800 motor has not been particularly efficient on gas or oil. It has never been awful, but just never this good. Over the three tanks of gas we put in after break-in, we used less oil than we ever have before (roughly a quart). This sled is also warm and easy to drive despite its weight. Our other Cat, the ZR 9000 Limited, is wicked fast and a head turner. We like the extra storage and easy-to-read gauges on both of the Cat machines.

Like we said in our comparison tests this year, the Polaris Pro-X models have less corner roll this year than last. We were actually able to ride a last year’s Pro-X alongside the new Pro-X at our Real World Shootout this year, and the 2016 model is certainly more planted. The 600 Switchback was probably the best handling sled in the group for the conditions we had. We rode tight trails that were often rough and ranged from low snow to lots of new snow. The Pro-S was able to handle the varying conditions and terrain, and most of all, corner better than every other sled in our group of demo units.

Ski-Doo’s newest Renegade Backcountry has proven to be a very capable trail machine, as well as a VERY capable off-trail machine. Plus, it gets great fuel mileage at 15.54 mpg, the second-best of all our demo sleds. The longer Cobra 146-inch track is 16 inches wide and has a 1.6-inch lug. The combination of slightly shorter lug, longer footprint, FlexEdge technology in the track and tMotion rear suspension actually makes this sled a blast to ride fairly fast through the bumps. It’s much better than even some short-track sleds from other OEMs, and the seat is crazy comfy. The X-RS is still a staff favorite, and the 129-inch rear suspension takes bumps just a hair better than last year.
AmSnow Real World Shootout 2016 Castle X gear speed tests
Whatchya gonna do when they come for you? No, our test rider Butch Veltum is not getting arrested … yet. He is getting a radar star put on his back to help the radar gun pick him up at long distances.
Mark Boncher
AmSnow Real World Shootout 2016 Ski-Doo Renegade Backcountry
With solid acceleration times, the second-best mileage and the second-lightest weight, the Ski-Doo Backcountry proved why it’s a top on-trail and off-trail sled.
Mark Boncher
Yamaha’s new Viper L-TX LE turbo is soooo fun. It has been a long time since everyone in the group really wanted to ride a Yamaha through tight and whooped out trails, but this one can take any conditions with confidence. With the Yamaha chassis damping system in the front and over the rear of the tunnel, and the FOX QS3 shocks up front, we still stand by our previous comments that this is the best handling Yamaha we have ridden in recent memory.

Mid-Season Impressions: Needs Improvement
The Cat Turbo was terrible on fuel mileage, no way around it. Granted, this was a big sled with a big turbo motor, but to get several MPGs less than the nearest 800cc 2-stroke motor is not positive for an EFI 4-stroke motor, even if it is a turbo. Also, we still can’t figure out why on Cat’s 2-stroke sleds you have to pull a second side panel back to be able to add the injection oil. Seems we should have something a little more user-friendly in 2016 when we’ve had very user-friendly oil reservoirs for decades.  

We love to be able to see when we are riding, and vision is the best on the Polaris 800 Pro-X. You sit so high that I told our test rider, Les Pinz, that he could probably see 3-4 different states from up there! Joking aside, the height and lack of any wind protection make this sled often cold and uncomfortable to maneuver through tight trails, especially on icy mornings. The 600 Switchback can almost be too planted in some trail conditions, but it certainly can turn quickly!

The new TS skis on our Ski-Doo MXZ X-RS are definitely easy to adjust, but we are not sure the trade-off in weight up front is worth it yet. This is a big bump and performance machine, and the jury is still out on whether or not it handles the rough-and-tumble stuff as well as the previous 2015 model. We felt like it had more seesaw action with the heavier skis, even with lots of dialing in of the suspension. Finally, the narrower stance and larger keeled skis on the Backcountry sometimes make it “catch” in the corners when you are least expecting it.

It can still be an issue to put Yamaha 4-stroke turbos on their side. If you are going to take any machine off-trail, or even just to work on the underside of a sled, you have to tilt it on its side. Unfortunately, this can sometimes cause issues with oil coming out the breather or leaking. In addition, it can cause bubbles in the coolant. A rollover valve is one possible solution that Yamaha has explored, so we are sure this is a temporary deal. We’ve had restarting and overheating issues on both Cat and Yamaha sleds that have been put on their side (for whatever reason) in the past.
AmSnow Real World Shootout Stats 2016
AmSnow Real World Shootout 2016 Intercomp
Mark Boncher
2016 Real World MPG
Arctic Cat ZR 9000 Limited – 10.85
Arctic Cat XF 8000 Crosstrek – 15.94
Polaris 600 SB – 13.48
Polaris 800 SB – 11.49
Ski-Doo X-RS – 14.67
Ski-Doo Renegade Backcountry – 15.54
Yamaha SR Viper L-TX LE Turbo – NA

2016 Real World Wet Weights

Arctic Cat ZR 9000 Limited* –  683 lbs.
Arctic Cat XF 8000 Crosstrek –  637 lbs.
Polaris 800 Switchback Pro-X (w/ rack) – 592 lbs.
Polaris 600 Switchback Pro-S – 559 lbs.
Ski-Doo MXZ X-RS 129-inch 800* – 604 lbs.
Ski-Doo Renegade Backcountry – 571 lbs.
Yamaha SR Viper L-TX LE (w/ turbo kit) – 630 lbs.

*Woody’s studs & carbides. Scales by Intercomp Racing.
AmSnow Real World Shootout 2016 Woody's logo
We add traction products to higher power sleds at the Shootout every year, and this year, Woody’s supplied the goods. We added eight inches of Woody’s 60-degree Square ACE carbide to the Arctic Cat ZR 9000 Limited turbo sled, which made steering even more positive and aggressive. This is also a trail-friendly carbide runner. We also added Woody’s 60-degree carbide-tipped Gold Digger studs to our Cat ZR 9000, with tunnel protectors and a fourth wheel kit. The tri-hub rear wheel assembly that comes on the Cat 9000 works plenty well, but the fourth wheel kit gives the sled just a little more stability in corners at speed, as well as durability.

On our Ski-Doo MXZ X-RS, we used the standard 84 Grand Master Pro studs with 60-degree carbide inserts, and we studded down the center of the track. We actually used the single-ply Grand Master studs on the single-ply Ice Ripper track. We had never tried this before, and it was interesting because by studding down the center, we were able to hold the integrity of the studding job well. In addition, with it being an Ice Ripper track, it still had small additional traction on the outside. Now, both Woody’s and Camso will not be able to advise anyone to do this, as it says “do not stud” clearly on the Ice Ripper track, but most tracks say this and you void any track warranties if you stud them. That said, we cannot advise anyone to do this either; we are just telling you what we did as an experiment in testing.

Finally, we did not get our Yamaha SR Viper L-TX LE turbo in time to have it studded at the Shootout. But since then, we have had time to put miles on it studded, and the Gold Digger studs in combo with Yamaha tuner ski (with four inches of carbide on the outside keel and six inches in the center keel of the ski) worked the best this year for an average trail application.
Polaris AXYS Rush Racewerx raised custom rear tunnel
Mark Boncher
Since the release of the Rush in 2010, Polaris critics have been quick to denounce the awkward looking, hinged-suspension rear end. Racewerx owner, Doug Matejcek, isn’t necessarily one of those critics, but he dreamed up a way to put those criticisms to bed with a new rear tunnel assembly for the Polaris AXYS Rush sleds.

The custom raised rear tunnel gives the sled more of a finished look, and incorporates a rear heat exchanger and custom snowflap to aid cooling. A cutout near the base on the top of the tunnel allows access to adjust the rear shock.

While it’s still in the development process, we know this latest design from Racewerx caught the eye of several folks on the trail, AND Polaris brass, when displayed at Hay Days.
Arctic Cat HELO
If you are looking for a product to give consistent positive transfer on takeoff, see the HELO from EZRyde.
Arctic Cat HELO Timed Speed Results
HELO good time!
We had the opportunity to put one of EZRyde’s newest products, the HELO rear suspension mount, to the test. This quick install part (about an hour with proper tools) replaces the stock rear link of the sled. It adds a little additional suspension travel and allows some twist from the back of the skid. But the real advantage is the easier control of weight transfer. We noticed that not only on the trail, but also on the radar gun when we tested the HELO on our Arctic Cat ZR 9000 turbo. In every measurement of a ¼-mile sprint, the HELO-equipped sled was quicker than stock, particularly in the low range, where the majority of weight transfer in a speed run occurs.
Want to leave a comment?
Only registered members of 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.