2018 Real World Shootout - West

Pucker Up and Ride!
Last year was an incredible year for snow out West at least. We saw way above normal snowfall and finding deep snow to test our demo fleet was not an issue. In fact it was the norm all year.

However, the 2017-2018 season has been a different story, the winter started out strong; we started riding on November 7th and as a result were able to get all of our demo sleds broken-in properly by almost the beginning of December. Mother Nature then decided to turn off the faucet and turn on the heat. This did not keep us from riding it just made it hard to get off the trails much, luckily we know a few areas devoid of bulk-head breaking obstacles, but with rocks and stumps just under the surface in most other areas the majority of riding this year has come with a very high “pucker-factor."

As a result of being down almost eight feet of snow from the prior year we pushed back our Real World Powder Sled Eval dates several times, until we really had no choice but to just go for it. After all, deadlines are deadlines whether or not Mother Nature decides to cooperate. We finally got several really good snowstorms prior to the three days of evaluation, including two feet of new snow on the last day of our evaluation.
2018 Polaris Pro RMK 800 155
■ How we test
These three days of testing are specifically for this article and are dedicated to running specific tests and recording hard data on each sled. Each sled is also evaluated and tested all season long (typically eight months) for our long-term demo articles that come out in the fall. We remove as many variables as we can to be unbiased and even, down to exact foot placement on the running boards in some tests.

All the sleds were tested on the same days in the same snow conditions with the same rider, the exception being the hillclimb test where both AmSnow test riders, Kevin and Lonnie Thompson, took each sled through the course to give us an average of two different riders and times. We, like anyone else, were curious at what the outcomes would be.
2018 Ski-Doo Freerider 165
■ Results and Analysis
Shop Wet Weights - Weights are one of the things mountain riders are most concerned with. There is only 11.5 pounds separating the top three weights on the 2-strokes. Ski-Doo sent us a 165 to evaluate and even with the longer track and the “SHOT” starter it is still light when compared to the other manufactures 150-inch class length tracks. Also, this year Polaris sent us a Spring Check sled with electric start. We know that the electric start weighs over 20 pounds and many mountain riders prefer to not have that option. Cat faired the best in this weight test coming in at a slim 550 pounds proving they did shave weight from last year. Yamaha while still over 600 pounds is pretty impressive considering it is a 4-stroke with electric start and a turbo.

In Field Wet Weights - This was something we decided to test this year and takes a considerable amount of effort to do it right. The idea is that you ride the sleds as you normally would in the mountains; in this case the sleds were ridden for about two hours. We then pulled up to a weigh point, in this case we set up a pulley line hooked to a tree stump, then ran the line up and over two trees that had fallen against each other in an A-frame shape with the scale attached. Then we hooked each sled up without brushing any snow off and weighed them. The idea of this is to give a more accurate idea of which sleds shed snow the best, and which sleds retain snow. These weights are shown below in the chart after “binge” riding, as well as the amount of weight and the percentage gained over the shop weights. The snow was not the typical low-density powder we are use to, it was a fairly warm day and so the snow was a little wet and dense adding even more weight to anything it stuck to.

It will be interesting to see how the results are next year with the new “Alpha One” suspension from Arctic Cat as they claim that the new Alpha One monorail set-up is designed to shed snow a lot better. Having ridden it with this claim in mind, I can tell you first hand it definitely sheds the snow. Not to mention it is 11 pounds lighter, so being the lightest this year in both or our weight tests it will be interesting to see how much lighter it is next season.

Uphill 660’ or 1/8th of a mile speed runs - These give us a fairly good idea of where these sleds shine as far as hooking up and clutch engagement. AmSnow test rider Kevin Thompson ran each sled up the hill (about a 23 degree slope) in a new untracked line two times, there was about 12 inches of new snow on the hill the day we ran them. The Solo recorded the times and the average of the two runs is what you see in the chart. The longer 165 Freeride 850 shot out of the hole fastest and recorded the fastest overall times to 60’ and 330’ and came in second at 660’ behind the Sidewinder.

All of the 2-strokes were within 3.5 mph of each other at 660’. The Yamaha Sidewinder with the turbo takes a little longer on a hill with fresh snow to gather its feet and hook up, as it was the slowest from 0-60’ but once it does (somewhere between 330’ and 660’) it reels in the time quickly and by 660’ it is a rocket running almost a full 10 mph faster than the next fastest sled, the Ski-Doo Freeride!
2018 Arctic Cat Mountain Cat 8000 153
660’ or 1/8th of a mile trail speed runs - This test was something we debated whether or not to do. However many times while heading back to the trailers on the groomed trails we push each other to see how well these sleds perform on the trail. So why not show the times on a flat groomed surface for the mountain sleds? Yes we know that this is slower when compared to true trail sleds near sea level. For this test we had AmSnow test rider Lonnie Thompson run each sled two times down the dedicated closed course test trail, the chart shows the average of both times.

Holeshot goes to the 165 Freeride again, however as you can see the 153 AC Mountain Cat was nipping at its heels and was actually faster at 330’. All of the sleds were within a second of each other at 660’ with the Sidewinder just starting to really hook up at that point as you can see by its speed being between 8 and 11mph faster.

RMSHA style hillclimb course - This is the most subjective test in my mind since the ability of each rider plays at least some role in the outcome. We had both AmSnow test riders Lonnie and Kevin run each sled up the course for a total of two runs for each sled.

Using the Solo GPS we set up a starting line and a finish line. The GPS then automatically started timing once Kevin and Lonnie crossed the starting point and stopped once they crossed the finish line. I picked the course and did not go easy on them, besides I wanted to make sure that one sled did not have an advantage over another. The course wound through the trees up a steep hill and included some fairly technical side hills and a steep straight line shot up and out of a ravine to the finish.
2018 Yamaha Sidewinder 153
The Sidewinder can go seemingly straight up and its 998 turbo is the HP monster of the fleet.
We were really surprised at how close the times were! Less than a second separated all of the sleds after two runs! The 2-strokes were fast out of the hole and nimble in the turns and side hills, but the Yamaha Sidewinder was faster through the straights. Having photographed the hillclimb circuit for 10 years I can tell you that close times like this are not unheard of, in fact more than once I have seen exact same times down to the hundredth of a second in over minute-long runs.

Overall impressions so far: The Ski-Doo Freeride with the new Gen4 Chassis is nimble, fast, and the clutching is right where it needs to be. It is really fast out of the hole but has a tendency to stand up and wobble from side to side more than the other sleds; one would expect this has something to do with the T-Motion and the FlexEdge track with the more powerful motor. While all of this plays a role for sure, I am convinced that the main reason it stands up so quick is because the track hooks up so incredibly well. Of all the sleds the new Gen4 seems to keep going where most sleds get stuck, even sleds of equal or similar track length. Yes you can adjust some of this by adjusting the limiter strap and playing with the suspension. Don’t get me wrong we are not saying this is a bad thing and we actually prefer the sleds to stand up like this. It is great for many scenarios where getting the front end up and out of the snow is not just a matter or fun but a matter of safety to clear obstacles, especially for us in this test with less than stellar snow conditions.

We cant wait to put a lot more miles on the Freeride, but have already been impressed with its ability to go about anywhere and do about anything. If you have never ridden the new Gen4, you need to. Don’t do it for an hour, ride this sled all day in varying conditions not only to get use to how it rides and feels, because it is unlike anything else but also to appreciate just how awesome it is.
The Polaris Pro RMK 800 in the Axys Chassis has become a familiar sled in a good way. It is predictable, nimble and holds a line very well. Of all the mountain sleds it comes up and levels out the quickest. We tested this in a sequence of runs setting a camera up on a tripod shooting each sled in a fresh line, and consistently the Polaris came up and leveled out first. This is great when you are trying to go up a hill through tight trees and or deep powder. Even with the shorter 155 track and three-inch lug, it is impressive how quickly it wants to be on top. For really steep side hills this is the sled of choice, it has a fairly large sweet spot for holding a line and the track really bites in and creates a level surface to run on allowing it to hold the line without washing out. This allows for consistent throttle control through a side hill line because you don’t have to fight washout tendencies.

While the Walker Evans suspension is nice and for the most part works great, it is not our favorite. The difference from soft to hard on the quick adjusts are not very noticeable. However with some adjustment to the springs you can get the suspension to play a little nicer. We still feel this is an area that with some improvement could make what is already an incredible sled even better for a larger majority of customers. We also can’t wait to see how the new React front end and the new 850 motor changes the way the Axys rides and feels. One thing is for sure, the 800 Pro RMK Axys is already incredibly capable so anything to improve on that is just the cherry on top.

The AC Mountain Cat 8000 has been the surprise sled of the year for me so far. It is one of the easiest sleds to ride and is more capable than many people give it credit for. I blame some of this on AC for not marketing it more, but maybe some of that had to do with the transition since Textron came on the scene. Unless you have ridden it you really have no idea just how great this sled is, and what you are missing out on. The 18 Mountain Cat is nimble, light, and incredibly agile. Motor is responsive in the bottom and mid-range, and the new C-TEC2 has more than enough power to take you everywhere you want to go. It really does ride much better than the ’17.

It is easy to side-hill and boondock on and the Fox QS3 clicker shocks work incredibly well. The lockout feature of the rear suspension is great for steep climbs to keep the front down, although don’t forget to change it back when you get on the trail. AC has come a long way with the Mountain Cat, and with the new 165, 3.5-inch pitch and three-inch lug Alpha One Mountain Cat for 2019 it will be a new ball game.
2018 Arctic Cat Mountain Cat 8000 153
The Mountain Cat is one of the easiest sleds to ride and is more capable than people give it credit for.
Cat is not going to be in people’s rear view mirror much longer.

The Yamaha Sidewinder 998 Turbo is the horsepower monster of the demo fleet. Unlike other 150-inch class length tracks the Sidewinder is actually more difficult to ride in a short track length than the 162 we had last season, mostly because it just wants to stand up and walk everywhere it goes. We are not saying this sled is not fun or capable, you just have to get used to it.

The Sidewinder is still a sled that impresses everyone, and puts the biggest smiles on people’s faces after they ride it. This is the big crotch rocket of mountain sleds. While it is the heaviest, and does tend to dive in deep snow and in turns, it feels very light when you are on the turbo. The HP monster under the hood helps to offset the weight. With the narrow 36-inch front end it is easier to hold in a side hill than you would expect. This sled has no problem following or going where the other sleds go, or leading the pack. You’ll feel more sore at the end of the day, but a lot of this, as I have said before, has to do with all the torque that is constantly pulling at your arms. Its like holding on to a Stallion that just wants to be let loose. The amount of track speed that the Sidewinder generates is incredible. It actually creates so much track speed that you can feel it wanting to lift the sled up and out of a trench.
We have gained a solid appreciation for the Sidewinder over the last two years and absolutely love this sled. Steep climbs, speed, powder, boondocking you can do it all with the Sidewinder. Don’t be fooled by what you read or hear this sled is an absolute riot.

All of the manufactures produce sleds that are capable of going most anywhere in the backcountry and giving the rider the tools to do a lot of really cool stuff. But at the end of the day it comes down to picking what tool works best for you and your riding style and budget. As one rider we know puts it, “doesn’t matter what you ride, what matters is that you just get out and enjoy the beauty of God’s Country.”
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