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Best boogie on the trail!

Short track trail 850s get down the trail in a hurry
2019 Polaris Indy XC 850
“I just ride trails.” We hear that a lot … and that’s totally awesome!

Seriously, today so much of the marketing blitz in the snow business is focused on off-trail and mountain riding that we forget that there are thousands and thousands of us trail guys and gals out there. Sure, I ride in the mountains and off-trail, but my first and best love is cruising the corridors with lots of fresh new snow bending the tree limbs.

In this comparison we will be looking at the brand-new 2019 Polaris Indy 850 XC 129 and the 2019 Ski-Doo Blizzard 850. Check out a little extra item on the 2019 Arctic Cat ZR 8000 Sno Pro, too: Yes, we grant you, it’s not an 850, but it out-kicks its coverage and bats out of its league every time. Plus, we feel it has enough oomph to stay competitive with the 850s.

■ Best of the Best
Yes, the 2019 Polaris Indy 850 XC was the Editor’s Choice sled for this year, so obviously we are pretty smitten with it. With the new Patriot motor, this was a Snow Check only model, but that did not cause thousands of Polaris riders and converts to hit the pause button on ordering one. This was one of Polaris’ most successful snowmobile launches in a long time for us trail riders. Many Polaris dealers were extremely excited to have this big 2-stroke CFI twin 850cc Patriot-powered trail-railer to sell during the spring and have a few on their floors this fall. Coming on the heels of a mediocre to average winter in many Midwest areas, timing could not have been better! This was especially true considering that the Ski-Doo 850 E-TEC has been out for two years with little to no competition.
2019 Polaris Indy XC 850
■ What do we like? Lots!
First off, it feels lightweight, almost similar to like a 600 or 700 in the trail. Certainly not a 160+ hp 850! At 460 pounds dry, the Polaris Indy XC is 29 pounds heavier than the shorter 121-inch Rush Pro-S 800, and it is 16 pounds heavier than the 2019 Rush Pro-S 850. I would set any of them up against each other and pick the Indy XC every time.

Second, Polaris is finally all aboard the 129 train. The 129-inch length skid has quickly become the choice of a new generation when it comes to what people want to do with their sleds in the trail and how they want them to perform. The Pro CC coupled 129 rear suspension is very good, not as groundbreaking as the Rush was, and not a huge departure from other competitors’ offerings as far as performance goes, but competes extremely well.

Where you see the difference in the trail is the combination of this new skid and the AXYS front end, and the Walker Evans compression adjustable piggyback needle shocks. This front end is really good and was just waiting for a true trail rear end to match its performance capabilities. We’re not saying that the Rush is a worse sled by any means, but the Indy beats the Rush in the corners, and so far, the Rush still beats the Indy (just barely) in the monster-sized moguls and long stretches of big bumps. But how often do you go for five miles straight through incredible whoops? Normally, unless you ride into Hurley, Wisconsin at 8pm on a Saturday night, you will have plenty of stretches of less bumpy trail, followed by a little more bumpy trail. I would rather have the Indy myself for an all-day normal ride of 250 miles on the trail.
What else? This sled looks good! I am a snowmobile purist at heart and this sled actually looks like an awesome machine for the trail! There isn’t much guesswork to find out what goes where and how I’m going to do this or that. It is straightforward, comes in great graphic packages, and does everything I want, from easily and quickly evacuating snow on the running boards, to making it fairly easy to fill the oil tank, to holding my spare belt easily and right where I need it. Sometimes, most times, it is the little things.

What we don’t like? There is not much, but the Pro-Steer skis on Polaris sleds are still louder than any other ski I have ridden from the OEMs. Not a huge deal because they turn great and I would rather have the performance! Also, Polaris is the last hold-out not to have tethers on their sleds. I think this is just as important in the trail as it is in the mountains. Many of you readers - and our test riders - agree. If I were a betting man, I would say this is coming - but I’ve been wrong before!
Ski-Doo MXZ Blizzard 850
■ Holding the bar high
Ski-Doo is still holding the bar high in almost every snowmobile market segment, and nowhere is that more evident than in the trail and crossover markets. The MXZ has been the handling standard that others have strived to achieve arguably since the XP chassis came out - heck, I did not even have kids yet, that was so long ago!

The Blizzard with the 850 E-TEC direct injected 2-stroke twin is the in-season trail sled to beat from Ski-Doo. Just to be crystal clear, this is not a Spring Only sled, so your annoying barstool racing buddy can rest easy when he makes the argument that this is not a 100 percent, direct, apples-to-apples, oath-taking” perfect comparison. But few things ever are!

Truth be told, the Polaris XCR models and the Spring Only Ski-Doo X-RS models compare fairly directly as well as the Polaris Pro-S and Ski-Doo X models. So, this one is actually fairly close when you look at the sled universe as a whole, and especially when you consider what we have access to test from the manufacturers.

But how does it ride? Like a dream. The power from this 168.7 hp motor is more linear than any other 800 or 800+ on the market. Clutching is smooth as silk, the combination of smooth power delivery, perfect trail clutching and suspension make this 129-inch sled easy for riders who are afraid of a big 850. The pDrive clutch is a big reason this sled can slice through the trails like a hot knife through butter. Dual rollers instead of sliding buttons handle the massive torque this engine puts out. The pDrive clicker outfitted clutch also cut out 2.8 lbs. compared to the TRA VII.

With HPG Plus shocks both up front in the RAS 3 front suspension and in the rear rMotion suspension, this has plenty of capability to take big bumps, but is much more compliant for an average trail rider than some of the higher-end performance sleds. There is simply too much we like about this sled to name them all, but the well-designed medium height windshield, having an RF tether, having a 129-inch Ice Ripper Camoplast track standard and having a Brembo brake with braided stainless-steel line are just a few of the things we talk about after every ride.
Ski-Doo MXZ Blizzard 850
The “things that need improvement” list is small, but important. We are still not sold on the TS adjustable skis. They add weight to the front end, where you really don’t want any more weight. And they don’t work all that well on ice, even with the bigger carbides installed. Plus, they add unneeded cost to an already expensive vehicle.

There’s more good news than bad news here, though, and this is not a year-one machine so you know what you are getting and Ski-Doo has had plenty of time to work out the bugs with under hood heat issues, and getting all the adjustability of the front end and rear skid to work harmoniously.

Finally, at 487 pounds dry, this is not the lightest sled compared to other competitive trail sleds.

■ The end game
For me, the four-year warranty on the Polaris 850 was enough to bust the tie-breaker on these two sleds. Plus, the looks of the new Indy with all the options creates the opportunity to really make every sled out there your own. But the consistent trail handling of the MXZ Blizzard is hard to surpass. I am ok to roll the dice on a 1st year sled and get it right in one or two rides in order to have a worry-free four years. These two 850s are really close, but my choice money is the Indy.
2019 Arctic Cat ZR 8000 Sno Pro
2019 Arctic Cat ZR 8000 Sno Pro
2019 Cat Sno Pro 8000 ES

I didn’t skip out on any time with the new Cat ZR 8000! In any of its forms the ZR 8000 is just a fun sled to ride. As far as looks go, I think Arctic Cat has the game handled. The new next-gen body panels are aerodynamic and aesthetically pleasing while the slope of the sled from the headlight to windshield is done better than any other trail sled on the market. Hats off to the Arctic Cat design team up there in the Thief River Falls: Job well done, folks!

Honestly, the reason I like riding this sled is because it is playful. That’s the best way I can put it. This 800 can be tossed around like a 600cc sled any day of the week. Also, to be fully honest, I have tried this sled with studs and without and I would rather ride it without studs and more aggressive carbide. It takes a lot for me to say that, as I am an aggressive rider most of the time who like his sleds to respond accordingly when I put in the effort to turn. But this sled, well, it is just an absolute blast to drift around corners, tip-top over moguls and genuinely enjoy yourself on. By the way, this is probably the most I have talked about a sled without giving any info on specifications, but that’s how important I think it is for people to understand a simple truth I’ve come to realize: This sled will bring you back to your trail roots.

Part of the reason for the high fun factor of this sled is the clutch roller bearing on the shaft, which enables the auto-adjusting belt tension design and delivers consistent performance without manual adjustments. A much lower effective starting ratio is why this sled feels smoother on engagement than previous Suzuki 800s in Cat sleds. Oh, and it also reduces belt wear.

We are so happy that Cat finally put an electric start on the handlebar control block and put tethers on the trail sleds like this new ZR 8000 Sno Pro ES. Yes, and they still have push-button reverse too. Cat is positioning itself with little moves like these to be known as the OEM that listens to its customers and responds. We hope this trend continues in the future. Other little things include the Stealth lightweight master cylinder on the Hayes brake, along with a composite brake lever. All you folks who have the itch to really feel what your brake is doing at all times? This one is for you. Finally, things like an accessibly 12V outlet so I can plug in all my gadgets also make a difference.

The drawbacks of this sled are a little slower top-end even compared to other 800s, not 850s. See our Spring issue last year with our Real-World Shootout stats. It certainly holds its own, and is way more fun in the twisty trails than a lot of similar sleds out there. What’s more, this rider is pretty much over the feeling that he needs to go race every single guy on the lake. Those same guys are worn out, unhappy and downright ornery when they have to ride their sleds 250 miles down the trail. One final note, Cat’s seat is much more enjoyable than the narrower options from other sleds we rode this year!
American Snowmobiler Trail 850 comparison test Arctic Cat Ski-Doo Polaris
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