AmSnow's Real World Powder Sled Evaluation 2017

Rocky mountain snowmobile testing and rider impressions in real conditions
2017 Arctic Cat M 8000 Limited snowmobile Klim
The M 8000 Limited was responsive to rider input and wanted to climb up on the snow quickly. Truth be told, however, we’re more excited about the new Mountain Cat!
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos
Blizzards, blinding snow, subzero temperatures, unicorn snow and more! We experienced all this and plenty of average conditions during our long-term sled evaluations. We look for varied places in the mountains of Northern Utah and Southern Idaho, taking each manufacturer’s top mountain sleds through the gauntlet to determine what they can and can’t do.

Our test riding team, the Thompson Test Riding Posse (TTRP), rides the AmSnow demo sleds as soon as the snow flies. We devote numerous days in the backcountry
(a tough job, I know). Our evaluations do not come after one day of riding the sled, but after weeks of riding over various conditions the way most mountain sledders ride. So when we give you our conclusions in this mid-season article, you can rest assured knowing that our opinions were not predetermined and the sleds were not pampered.

We also solicited feedback from other riders in our group. During any given week, there are typically 12-15 people that ride with us. All brands are represented, providing a great opportunity to get the most unbiased opinions from women, teens, brand loyalists, and old folks (I am getting there really fast myself).

No matter your preference, all of these 2017 sleds impressed us in the mountains. And, to make our job even more awesome, we had a banner snow year! As I write, we are over 175% of normal snow pack. Riding in deep pow has been the norm (so far) for almost every ride this year.

We won’t delay any longer. Here are the Real World info regarding our group of 2017 powder sleds thus far.
Our stable of demo sleds:
  • Arctic Cat M 8000 Limited, 15x162x3-inch track ($14,699 US)
  • Polaris 800 Pro-RMK 174 LE, 15x174x3-inch track ($15,199 US)
  • Ski-Doo Summit X 850 E-TEC, 16x165x3-inch track ($12,899 US)
  • Yamaha Sidewinder M-TX, 15x162x3-inch track ($16,599 US)
2017 snowmobile deep powder snow
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos
Arctic Cat M 8000 Limited
The M 8000 Arctic Cat was responsive to rider input but always seemed to want to point you straight. However, the Mountain Cat we evaluated last spring was incredibly agile and responsive, so much so that I found myself trying things multiple times because I thought maybe I just got lucky with a certain line or sidehill.

The M 8000 has a very responsive crisp bottom end and feels excellent underfoot. It has a good mid-range for holding a terrific line across the hill, but it also has plenty of power for when you want to turn your line uphill. We were impressed with how quickly it wanted to climb up on the snow. This was due in part to the flatter track-to-snow approach angle; it certainly didn’t go unnoticed.

Ski-Doo Summit X 850 E-TEC

Besides adding a new powerhouse in the 850 E-TEC engine last year, Ski-Doo also engineered the Gen4 REV chassis, moving the rider forward, opening up the foothold and narrowing the sled.

The Summit has turned the most heads this year – some due to its unique look, and others because the sled flat-out defies logic on the hill. We are amazed at where the new 165” 850 can go. A common phrase is, “I should have been stuck, but it just kept going!”
2017 Ski-Doo Summit X 850 E-TEC snowmobile Klim
We happen to have a soft spot for the Gen4 REV chassis in the 2017 Ski-Doo Summit X 850 E-TEC.
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos
Usually, we have a pretty good idea of when we’re about to trench and get stuck, or when to turn out of a steep climb because the power is lagging. None of these things readily apply to the new 850.

Even die-hard groupies of other OEMs have thrown a leg over it to see what the hype is all about. They continually come back amused, saying something to the tune of, “If there was ever a sled that was going to get me to jump ship, this would be the one …”

The Gen4 850 responds extremely well to foot pressure and knee pull, more so than the other sleds we evaluated. Still, it’s hard to pinpoint the source of the Summit X magic. I’ve determined it is all of this year’s changes working together. This sled takes little input from the rider to go where you want, making rider fatigue less of a factor on those days spent in the deep and steep. Steering is effortless (almost a power-steering feel) and leaves you less beat up at the end of a long hard ride. Ski-Doo has done a great job making this sled easier on the body (something us old men appreciate).

Side note: Our friends in Ski-Doo’s suspension engineering department deserve raises. The combination of top-notch Gen4 suspension and steering makes the Summit X 850 the plushest ride of all the sleds we evaluated this year.

Polaris 800 Pro-RMK 174 LE

Also making its debut this year was the Polaris 800 Pro-RMK 174, although it seemed to be overshadowed by the release of the Ski-Doo Gen4. This may be partly due to the fact that Polaris’ changes have been anticipated for the last couple of years. However, don’t let the lack of “shazam” in the media fool you into thinking it is anything short of amazing.
2017 Polaris 800 Pro-RMK 174 snowmobile FLY Racing
The Polaris 800 Pro-RMK 174 LE was built to handle the steep and deep with ease.
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos
We all really liked the stiff track feel. We were impressed with its bite into the hill, giving us very little washout in all types of snow conditions and on steep sidehill lines. The track and the AXYS body made it feel tippy in a very good way.

We had this sled last spring for a couple of months, too. Typically, the 174-inch track lengths do not fare so well in spring conditions, as the lugs want to lie down with not much powder to put the long track to good use. However, we were pleasantly surprised at how well the Pro-RMK performed in the spring snow.

An added benefit of riding a 174 is you can “burp” the throttle and go through steeper and deeper technical terrain more slowly. Some of the other sleds required you to be aggressive and on the throttle.

A small but important advantage to this sled is its storage options. It’s nice to have places to store your lunch or other items, instead of just in your avalanche pack. Polaris wins in this department, especially in the spring-buy editions, which have a handlebar bag, an under-seat bag and the Burandt tunnel bag – all standard. There are options for all of the sleds, but it’s nice to see an OEM taking the comfort level up a notch.
2017 Yamaha Sidewinder M-TX snowmobile Klim
The Yamaha Sidewinder M-TX feels heavy – and it is – but the factory-built turbo makes up for the weight with more than 200hp!
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos
Mountain riders like sleds to respond to input, and each sled has its own sweet spot. Some have king-size sweet spots, others not so much. The 174 AXYS is sweet all over. I noticed immediately how well it responds to counter steer, more than the other sleds we evaluated. I can pull it right where I want it to go. When I move from another sled to the AXYS, I almost always pull it over on me the first time I bring it up on an edge. This is mostly because I have to be more aggressive with the other sleds to get them to do the same thing the AXYS does with little effort.

Yamaha Sidewinder M-TX

It’s tough to compare the Sidewinder M-TX to any of the other mountain sleds we evaluated long-term. It’s a 4-stroke, but it has an incredibly advanced and powerful engine in the 998cc factory-built turbo. This is the first production sled to put out more than 200hp! There is no other sled out there that sounds anything like this rocketship/jet warplane. It manages to be remarkably quiet while the front end is down, but when the front end comes up, you’ll understand the spaceship take-off comparisons.

Even though it is 25 lbs. heavier than its predecessor (the Viper M-TX), the Side-winder feels lighter and more nimble. The track speed that it generates with its zero-lag triple throttle body turbo is amazing. This powerhouse does not mess around, and as long as you ride it aggressively and stay on the throttle, it will go pretty much anywhere. I anticipated the turbo would put too much power to the track for it to be effective in the trees at slower speeds. Once you figure out the throttle, however, it does surprisingly well.

Being in the throttle on this beast is what makes it feel light, but the minute you back out of the throttle, it wants to dive. The new skis help it float better and not push as hard through corners as the Viper, but a good Mohawk ski from SLP makes all the difference in the world in helping to keep the front end grounded.

Be prepared for some serious fun factor with this monster, because it flat-out rips!
2017 Polaris 800 Pro-RMK 174 snowmobile wet weight
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos
Sled Wet Weights
We dried the sleds and topped them all off with fuel and oil. We left all the bags and standard accessories on the sleds so they would remain just how you would purchase them from the showroom floor. Sleds are ranked lightest to heaviest:
  1. Polaris 800 Pro-RMK 174 – 542.6 lbs.
  2. Ski-Doo Summit X 850 165 – 547.0 lbs.
  3. Arctic Cat M 8000 Limited 162 – 574.5 lbs.
  4. Yamaha Sidewinder M-TX 162 – 649.3 lbs.
Straight-Line Hill Shot Test
For this test, we found a steep, long pull that had no tracks on it. We picked a very similar line (one right next to the other), and we ran the sleds up the hill one at a time. The idea was to push them until they got stuck; no sidehilling – just straight up until they trenched.

With the new snow and grade of the hill, we were confident that none of the sleds would make it over. The first sled on the hill was the 174, and we were impressed that it made it about halfway up. The next sled was the Ski-Doo 850, and it made it about one sled length further up the hill than the Polaris. Although we expected the Arctic Cat M 8000 be closer to the other two sleds, it stopped short and trenched relatively low on the hill. The last one up was the Yamaha spaceship. As expected, the turbo sent the Sidewinder up past all the sleds, almost making it over the top.
  1. Yamaha Sidewinder M-TX 162
  2. Ski-Doo Summit X 165
  3. Polaris Pro-RMK 174
  4. Arctic Cat M 8000 Limited 162

For the results of our hillclimb test conducted on an RMSHA-style course, click here.

Lonnie Thompson AmSnow Western test rider crew
Lonnie Thompson
2017 Yamaha Sidewinder M-TX snowmobile FLY Racing
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
Kevin Thompson AmSnow Western test rider crew
Kevin Thompson
Lonnie Thompson

The Arctic Cat M 8000 Limited 162 with 3-inch lugs is not my favorite sled. It is also not the fault of the manufacturer. This is one of those “it’s not you, it’s me” situations. I have not spent my life developing muscles to ride a vertical steering post, causing me to second-guess myself on the Cat in difficult situations. I feel that a lot of riding is muscle memory, and when I react to a situation and something doesn’t feel right, it instantly strips me of confidence and commitment to a line.

I have to hand it to the engineers, though. Instead of compromising vehicle structure and cutting weight, they overcame things by changing the handling of the vehicle. Steering on the cat is almost self-powered; you turn it a little, and it turns itself a little. It has a very light feel to it. There seems to be a lot of ski in front of the spindle, making the counter steer on a sidehill almost effortless.

I also love the gauge cluster! It’s adjustable and easy to see. Arctic Cat does a good job with storage and accessories, too.

Polaris 800 Pro-RMK 174 also has a vertical steering post, but it’s a better confidence builder. It’s lightweight, easy to maneuver and “it really holds a sidehill good.”

The 174 track length with 3-inch lugs has amazing traction. In extremely steep technical situations, it allows you to slow down, maybe even stop and reflect, “Maybe I shouldn’t be up here?” As you look back, you say, “No way I’m going to go back down, I’ve got to make it to the top, and find a safe way.”

Another plus: the handlebar bag and tunnel bag are standard.

Yamaha Sidewinder M-TX 162 is awesome! Not something you have really ever heard about a 4-stroke in the mountains, but this sled is a major contender. Right out of the box, it’s an animal. This sled will put some muscles on your muscles and a smile on your face. I can ride this sled all day long in the trees. At the end of the day, I know I’ve been on a 4-stroke, but it can be done. I’m excited to see where it goes in the future. TURBO! Enough said.

Ski-Doo Summit X 850, a 165-incher with 3-inch lugs, is a winner for Ski-Doo. It is the most fun stock sled I have ever been on in the mountains. It’s so light, nimble to ride and easy to sidehill. So easy that you will start to lose muscle mass everywhere but in your smiley-face cheeks. The traction coupled with the powertrain is unreal.

If I was on Ski-Doo’s marketing team, I would trademark the word “responsive.” That word really describes this sled well. You touch the throttle, and it changes quickly. You turn the handlebars, and it turns. The slightest change in foot pressure, and you better be ready. If you get aggressive with all of that at the same time, hold on and hope you make it to the buzzer, ‘cause you’re about to get thrown off!

This sled offers traction on par with 174-inchers with 3-inch lugs, combined with the handling behavior of 150-inch class sled. In the past, the 160-inch class sleds got around great, but they weren’t as fun to ride as the shorter track sleds. Summit X changes the game.

Kevin Thompson

The Arctic Cat M 8000 Limited 162 has good power and holds a sidehill well, but it pushes hard in the corners, especially under acceleration. The steering is just awkward for me, as it feels like I’m doing arm stretches when I am making a hard turn. It has a good ride; the seat is cushy, and it has storage – a big plus.

The Polaris 800 Pro-RMK 174 pushes hard in the corners, has great acceleration, and with the awesome 174-inch track, this thing will climb any tree-stuffed sidehill as slow as you want to go. When you get into the throttle, it has the power needed to pull you through the wind-drifted downfall that resembles pillows in unicorn snow. The RPMs are spot-on at all times, and the throttle response is instant. Storage space is great; the standard Burandt bag, handlebar bag and under-seat bag allow you to take a lunch and extra clothes. It does like to eat belts for lunch, along with a lot of 91 octane, but it does quite well on oil consumption.

Yamaha Sidewinder M-TX 162 is 10 times better than the Viper! It has awesome arm-pulling power, and the 3-inch lug track will chew through the deepest snow and just keep going and going and going. It is incredible, with no lag when you get on the throttle. It’s just FUN! Don’t get me wrong, though. This thing is heavy, but it is manageable because it is very well balanced. Storage is lacking, and thank heaven we get the belts fairly cheap, as we have used a few of those as well as primary springs. It is the easiest sled to change belts on, though! The Sidewinder would be my second choice of sleds so far this season, so kudos to Yamaha!

The Ski-Doo Summit X 850 is saving the best for last. This would be my first pick of sleds thus far into the 2017 season. It’s extremely strong on the trail as well as in bottomless powder. The power on this sled will let it find the bottom too, even if it is in China. There is great weight transfer, great Popeye forearm-building power, and it just goes – fast, slow, uphill, downhill, sidehill and even some upside-downhill. I can’t even put into words how much energy I still have at the end of the day when I ride this sled the whole day. The LinQ system is an excellent way to get your stuff hauled around quickly and easily, and there are so many options. The 165-inch track feels like my 155-incher, yet it is much easier to ride. Turning this sled is like having power steering … in fact, one rider even asked me, “When did they install power steering on snowmobiles?”

NOTE: At the end of every ride, each test rider ranks which sled he or she would want with the conditions we rode in that day. The trend data thus far shows Ski-Doo, Polaris, then Yamaha or Arctic Cat.
2017 Ski-Doo Summit X 850 E-TEC snowmobile Klim
Ryan Thompson - RLT Photos
Test Rider Rankings
Every day that we rode the sleds leading up to the Powder Sled Eval, we evaluated which sled seemed to shine in the conditions we rode in that day. Based on that, we averaged the sleds using a scale from 1 to 10.
  1. Ski-Doo Summit X 850 – 9.8 Overall, this sled ranked the highest in almost every type of snow condition for all of our test riders. Our only disappointment was its tendency to wash out in warm conditions. On a straight long pull, the only sled that out-performed it was the Yamaha Sidewinder.
  2. Polaris 800 Pro-RMK 174 – 9.5 This sled astonished us with how well it did in all conditions, but especially in warm temps, holding a sidehill without washing out when we thought it would. The steering is a little harder than the 850, and it tends to push a little more through corners.
  3. Yamaha Sidewinder M-TX 162 – 9.3 This sled is all about fun with its zero-lag turbo and the incredible track speed and torque it generates. It is very linear in its power build, nothing abrupt. Weight is the only thing that held this beast back. Of all of the sleds, this was the one that really left riders awestruck when they rode it. The sheer power is amazing, and we are excited to see where Yamaha takes it next.
  4. Arctic Cat M 8000 Limited – 8.8 This is a fun all-around sled, with great reaction to most rider input. It may be the perfect sled for riders who want to sit down once in a while, not stand all the time. It has the ability to get you everywhere you want to go, but not as aggressively as the other sleds. We rode the new Mountain Cat for a week and absolutely loved it. If we would have had it for this test and the same amount of time, we believe it would be ranked much higher than the Limited. With just a week of riding time on it, we could not fairly evaluate it with the other long-term demo sleds and put it through the same long-term evaluations and test. Don’t worry; a more extensive test session and info will be coming.
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