Deep snow crushers

Does longer really mean better?
2019 Yamaha Sidewinder M-TX 162
170+ inches, wow, that’s a big sled! I have had the chance to ride these super long sleds every year since they first appeared on the market back in 2015 with the Ski-Doo Summit X T3. That was the year Ski-Doo officially took the slugging fest to a whole new level.

Then before the other manufactures could fully counter punch, Ski-Doo made it an op-tion in their 2017 Gen 4 lineup with the new 850 E-TEC power-house and added an inch to the length (it also went from a 3-inch pitch to a 3.5-inch pitch) to undisputedly stay the longest tracked sled on the market.

■ Polaris lands a solid punch
In 2017 Polaris introduced their 174-inch track in the Axys chassis. While they were still using their 800 H.O. Cleanfire Engine to power this new goliath they actually had less mass to turn with the track. A 15x174x3 equals 2610 square inches versus a 16x175x3 with 2800 square inches on the Ski-Doo. This leveled the playing field somewhat when it came to putting the power to the track.

Meanwhile Arctic Cat and Yamaha stayed with the 15x162x3 inch option. Why they have not made the move to a 174/175 is anyone’s guess, but my personal view is that not adopting the longer track has not necessarily been a bad move. I really don’t think they are missing out on a huge segment of the market.

Yamaha went a different route during the same time-frame and became the undisputed power house with the introduction of the first full production turbo sled for the mountain segment, when they released the 204.6 hp (AmSnow / Dynotech tested) Sidewinder.

This year Arctic Cat unveiled the new Alpha One suspension, which is a whole new path. Clearly Yamaha and Arctic Cat were looking at other ways to power through the deep and climb the steep without going 170+ in track length, but maybe they will add that option in coming years.
2019 Ski-Doo Summit SP 850 175
■ Ski-Doo Summit SP 850 175
This is more than capable of taking you anywhere and everywhere. However, bottomless snow and steep climbs are where its ego really proves itself. The gigantic footprint allows you to enjoy unicorn snow without the struggle and work you have to exert on a shorter-tread sled. TTRP rider Curt Thompson loves the longer track because he does not need to be full throttle when navigating the trees on a mountain. The larger footprint allows him to sit and ride old school (he is 73). In fact, more often than not he is breaking trail and circling back to help others get un-stuck.

Typically longer tracks make sleds less responsive when initiating a turn or a tight tree line, but that is not the case with Ski-Doo Summit SP 175. The marriage of the Gen 4 chassis and the 850 E-TEC make the 175 ride and feel like a 160 class length sled, that is until you do a re-entry and realize you’re 12 feet in the air before the last lug leaves the snow! Hats off to the engineering department at BRP for doing a great job when it comes to producing a long-tracked sled that feels light, easy to turn and shorter underfoot than it is.

■ Worth mentioning
We were really skeptical of the open toe hold when Ski-Doo introduced the Gen4 chassis, but now that we have been riding it for 2+ years we can’t imagine it any other way. Ski-Doo also makes a ton of accessories to make your ride even better, including the LinQ removable snowflap. The adjustable handlebar risers are great for adding more leverage when you need it.

Whether you want to get out and enjoy the really deep powder, navigate the trees at a slower pace than your hopped-up turbo buddies, or climb steep chutes, this is the ultimate stock sled setup, hands down. Just be prepared that you will usually be the one helping everyone else get unstuck.
2019 Polaris Pro-RMK 850 174
■ Polaris Pro-RMK 850 174
When Polaris announced the new 850 Patriot engine I don’t think many people were surprised, however, when they announced that a four-year warranty would come standard with all of the 850s, that was a surprise! Especially considering this was the first full production model. We’ve mentioned this several times now, but that says a lot about how well engineered the product is, or at least how well they feel it will hold up. Several consumers I talked to who bought new this year told me the four-year warranty was a tipping point for them to put down $500 on a SnowCheck model (the 850 was only available for spring check).

The new Patriot 850 flat out moves! Polaris went all in by offering the motor in a wide variety of models including their Pro-RMK 174. They are claiming industry leading power-to-weight ratios and unmatched throttle response. AmSnow’s Western crew were certainly impressed with it. The power is deceptive. The linear power curve, like any well-built automobile, makes going fast seem slower. This is where the best digital display in the sled world comes in handy. So far their claims seem accurate. RPMs never seemed to drop off on big steep climbs, or in deep snow.

True to the Axys design, the 850 174 hops on top of the snow very fast and starts pulling hard from the start. It does feel long when riding on steep tree covered hills, but the advantage is that you can go slower and maintain greater control without feeling like the back-end is digging a hole to middle earth. Having less seesaw movement also means less rider fatigue.

Manufactures love to talk about their sleds having a narrower design so you don’t panel out on sidehills. Personally, if I am paneling out on any of these new sleds, it is because I have tipped over … usually an accident.

The purpose-built Axys chassis is narrow and nimble and makes a great home for the new Patriot 850. Along with the new engine, they also changed the geometry of the running boards. They claim the snowflap will touch before the running boards do on a sidehill. The new running boards also have over 50% open area which means less snow build-up.

While it is still in the Axys chassis, the new sled feels more responsive and much more stable. A lot of little changes like the running boards, how the new 850 is mounted in the chassis, the new React front suspension make this happen. Plus the shocks are three pounds lighter thanks to a proprietary patent protected new spring design made of steel that is lighter than titanium, and there’s a new lightweight, rigid rear suspension design that improves weight transfer leading to a more compliant ride. All of these improvements make the Axys chassis even easier to ride.
■ Yamaha Sidewinder M-TX LE 162
The record plays over again, as this is still the fastest, heaviest, most adrenaline pumping, smile-making, coolest sounding stock sled ever. Seriously, I know I have said it a million times but if you have never ridden a Sidewinder you are doing yourself a disservice. When Yamaha came out with the stock turbo Sidewinder in 2017 I don’t think anyone was prepared for how incredibly powerful and fun the sled would be.

The first time I rode it I was grinning from ear to ear and had tears running out of the corners of my eyes. It was so dang fast! Two years later I am still smiling ear to ear when I ride it. Oh, just a word to the wise - when you get on this crotch rocket, make sure your visor is tight and make sure you don’t tilt your head up enough for wind to get under it, because at triple digits (I know a guy who once went that fast) you will be staring out the bottom of the helmet before you even know what happened. Yes it is exhilarating to say the least.

Being a 4-stroke certainly has its advantages when it comes to engine life, torque and oh yes a triple throttle body and turbo with zero lag at your thumb. Everyone talks about the weight of the Yamaha, and yes it is heavy. However, many people don’t realize it has a stock 36-inch front end and is capable of holding long steep side-hills and going places other stock sleds can’t. The turbo makes this sled feel much lighter than it is by creating lift when you are on the throttle. It eats deep snow and steep hills for snacks. The Power Claw track has to withstand some incredible force from the power this 998cc engine puts to it. The track speed is so insane I was actually surprised after the first full day of riding that there were no missing lugs.

While the 153 is even faster with less mass to turn, it is not nearly as fun as the 162. The 162 seems to be the ideal length for the Sidewinder.

Navigating steep side-hills and tree lines with that much power at your thumb does take some muscle memory but this sled is much easier to ride than you think, and more capable than many people give it credit for.
2019 Sidewinder MTX LE 162_1copy
Sidewinder sings! While it isn’t the longest sled in this article, it still is probably the most fun you can have on a snowmobile.
■ The one time staring is OK
With all of that torque and power on the Sidewinder, you have to be mindful of those around you. It is easy to make people stare. While they may be staring at the amazing blue and yellow, they are also thinking to themselves, “What in the heck am I looking at?” We think it is in a good way!

While this sled has plenty of lift, it also has plenty of dive, so be ready to hold your breath when letting off the throttle in deep powder. There is also a tendency to push through turns especially on the trail. A wider ski goes a long ways to alleviating the tendency to dive and push and is the one thing we wish came on the 2019.

Some of the changes for 2019 include the chain-case being relocated to allow more clearance for new more efficient 8-tooth extrovert track drivers. The tunnel was also modified for more clearance and the running boards were narrowed up a bit. The new handlebar Stealth Control System works much better than previous models and is much easier to quickly access the hand and thumb warmer adjusters. The new Hayes brake cylinder comes equipped with a “shortie” brake lever and provides greater modulation that feels better and has powerful stop-ping performance, just be ready for it.

The 2019 Sidewinder may leave you tired at the end of the day with all of the arm-pulling torque, but it will also leave you with a grin on your face. It is not the Yamaha you see the memes of, it is unlike anything you have ever been on before. By far the most linear power curve we have ever felt, meaning, it just keeps pulling and pulling like a mad dog on a leash. Oh, and it seriously does sound like a jet.

Yamaha announced that for 2019 they will only be offering the 162 sidewinder M-TX LE in their mountain lineup. Honestly, unless Yamaha comes out with a 2-stroke this is the best sled for the mountain segment that they have had in their quiver. If I could pick one sled from the Yamaha lineup in the last five years that I would want for riding out West, the 162 Sidewinder M-TX LE would be the one.
■ So, is longer better?
In short, yes. If you are looking for a sled to power through deep powder effortlessly or climb steep chutes, then go long. What the Yamaha lacks in track length, it more than makes up for in power, torque and speed.

Ski-Doo and Polaris are certainly slugging it out in length and are the most closely matched sleds on the market. Regardless of brand-loyalty, it’s more important to just get out and ride!

We want to give a final shout out to the amazing designers and engineers behind all of these sleds. The ability of these folks to take a cool concept/design and forge it into a physical, rideable item, is nothing short of incredible. We live in a pretty awesome time in snowmobiling with a lot of really amazing machines because of these people!
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