800cc Mountain Freeride Snowmobiles for 2016

Get sendy with these sleds that are made to take abuse
2016 Polaris RMK Assault snowmobile
All new Polaris RMK Assault gets the awesome, even lighter AXYS RMK chassis and a new 800 H.O. engine for model year 2016. This is a sled that bullies its way through terrain.
Stephen W Clark
Like a sled that’s equally at home pounding through bumps as it is floating through the deepest powder? Need a sled built to take a beating? Want to huck your sled off the biggest cliffs or jumps imaginable? If you’re the kind of rider that measures a good day of riding in the number of miles flown through the air, then look no further than these freeride mountain sleds.

All three of the 800cc engine manufacturers offer a sled in this category. Arctic Cat has the HCR, Polaris the RMK Assault, and Ski-Doo the Freeride. These sleds serve double duty between backcountry freeride and hillclimb race machines. You may be wondering what the differences are between these machines and the standard M, RMK or Summit machines. They use the same engines and chassis but feature higher-end suspensions, wider front ends and bracing, making them more durable than their lightweight, deep snow-focused cousins. They are also premium models, so they get all the niceties associated with higher-end sleds (e.g., upgraded handlebars, shocks, colors and, of course, a high-end price tag too).
2016 Arctic Cat M 8000 HCR snowmobile
Arctic Cat’s M 8000 HCR was born and bred for hillclimb racing. It comes with a race-approved tether and suspension capable of handling race courses.
Stephen W Clark
You’ve got options
The Arctic Cat HCR hits the market with the most race-focused spec sheet. It comes with a race-approved tether and a racy Cat-green paint scheme. Suspension is handled by FOX Float 3 EVOL front shocks, a FOX Zero Pro center track shock and a FOX Float 3 rear shock. Like all the M sleds, the HCR gets a completely redesigned front end for 2016 with a new spindle design, A-arms and a completely new ski. Ski stance is adjustable from 38.5 to 42.5 inches, a full four inches wider than the other M models. Other features unique to the HCR include a stiffer, 80 Durometer version 2.6 Power Claw track and the absence of a rear tunnel cooler.

With a bold Lava Red and Manta Green paint scheme, it’s hard to miss Ski-Doo’s Freeride. Built on a reinforced REV-XM RS chassis, the Freeride uses KYB Pro 40 remote reservoir shocks with compression and rebound adjusters. It also uses a unique sway bar quick-disconnect to make the adjustable 38.4-40.1-inch ski stance easier to sidehill. The 800R E-TEC engine and the rest of the machine are the same as the Summit models. The Freeride is available in three different track lengths: a mountain-focused 146 and a 154 (both with tMotion pivoting rear suspension), or a more trail-focused 137 model with rMotion rear suspension.

Polaris pioneered this segment with the RMK Assault back in 2009, and it has continued to grow the Assault brand ever since. For 2016, the Assault benefits from all the same updates to the Pro-RMK, including the new raised AXYS RMK chassis and Cleanfire 800 engine. The Assault uses a chaincase instead of the belt drive found on some Pro-RMK models, and it features Walker Evans remote reservoir shocks. It also features a wider adjustable 41.5-43.5-inch ski stance, and it’s available in a range of track options, such as the 155 Peak 2.25-inch track for mixed hard pack and soft snow, a 155 Series 6 2.6-inch mountain track and a 155 Series 7 3-inch for the ultimate in deep-snow traction. In addition to the Assault and Pro-RMK, Polaris also offers the SKS model aimed at a similar category. Scroll down to read more about this model.
2016 Ski-Doo Freeride snowmobile
It seems like Ski-Doo always saves the debut of its wildest color schemes for the Freeride! The 2016 Lava Red and Manta Green colorings keeps this trend going.
Stephen W Clark
No mods needed
These three freerider sleds definitely fill a niche in the market for riders looking for a durable, well-suspended mountain sled. Hillclimb racers rely on these machines
in the stock classes, as they are built to handle the hard and rough race courses without any modifications. With chassis reinforcements, chaincases and good shocks, these machines are also great choices for mountain riders who ride in harder snow conditions or spend more time on the trail. However, buyers need to be realistic about the type of terrain and their riding style before deciding on a HCR, Freeride or Assault as opposed to a standard M, Summit or Pro-RMK. Do you really need the suspension and reinforcements? Or maybe more importantly, are you willing to give up some sidehill carving performance?

For model year 2016, there’s quite a bit of new technology in this class, including Arctic Cat’s new front end and Polaris’s new chassis and engine. Performance-wise, Polaris’s domination of the RMSHA circuit with the Assault is a testament to how well their machine works. And, based on the small amount of time we have spent on the updated AXYS model, it’s clear that Polaris has no intentions of stepping off the top step of the podium. The Ski-Doo Freeride is also a solid performer. Its quick-disconnect sway bar helps the sled perform more like a narrow mountain sled than the other two. The Cat is fast, stiff and begs to be ridden hard, making you feel like a racer every time you throw a leg over.

Our take
I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with these freeride sleds. On the one hand, I love the premium suspension, styling and added durability. But a wider front end takes more effort to roll onto its edge, making them more tiring to ride. The suspension packages on these sleds are a lot stiffer than standard mountain sleds and work great if you ride aggressively. The suspension can be a little harsh, especially for trail riding, but it all comes down to individual riding style and terrain. For a lot of people, these sleds offer a great balance of trail and mountain riding, from hard snow mountain to powder mountain riding.

Personally, I wish we could get a freeride level of suspension on a mountain sled with a narrow front end. This is now possible with Polaris’ nearly endless spring buy options, but it’s not available from Arctic Cat or Ski-Doo for model year 2016.
2016 Polaris SKS Pro-RMK Snow King Special snowmobile
Polaris SKS is a new model with a very traditional Polaris name! For 2016, this mountain machine slips in nicely between the super lightweight and deep snow-focused Pro-RMK and the more rough terrain-focused Assault.
Stephen W Clark
What exactly is an SKS?
Polaris snuck a new model into the mountain category for model year 2016 with the SKS. SKS stands for “Snow King Special,” and it’s a nod back to  older models that won the Jackson Hole hillclimbs back in the day. With a name tied to hillclimb heritage, it’s odd that the Assault will still be the sled of choice for hillclimbers. This third model is slotted between the super light, deep snow-focused Pro-RMK and the burly, rough terrain-focused Assault. The SKS uses the same 800 H.O. engine and AXYS RMK chassis, but it features a front bulkhead cooler and additional bogey wheels for improved performance in low-snow conditions. The SKS also gets a chaincase instead of the Pro-RMK’s belt drive, and it gets the Walker Evans Piggyback shocks that fill a place between the monotube shocks on the Pro-RMK and the stiffer needle shocks on the Assault. The SKS uses the narrower 39-41-inch adjustable ski stance like the Pro-RMK, as well as the 2.4-inch Series 5.1 track that came on 2015 and older Pro-RMK’s.

In a nutshell, the SKS is a Pro-RMK with upgraded shocks, a chaincase and additional cooling targeted at riders who spend time riding in lower snow conditions and want a machine that can handle rougher terrain than the super lightweight Pro-RMK. We have ridden the SKS, and it’s a great machine. It just seems strange to add a new model into the line when they could have achieved the same thing by adding a cooler option to the massive list of options available on Pro-RMKs during Snowcheck. But what do we know?
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