Going into the 2004 SnoWest Deep Powder Challenge we half expected Arctic Cat’s 900 to shine. After all, it has the horsepower, it’s light, and it just plain works in the snow. But what we actually saw surprised us. It wasn’t the King Cat that surfaced as the sled to beat … but rather the 1M 900 EFI. And it wasn’t a Cat sweep, as well.
The Arctic Cat 1M 900 EFI proved to have enough of “the right stuff” for the snow conditions to earn the title of top dog (or cat) during our annual Dealer Challenge held in Island Park, ID, Jan. 21-23. But it didn’t come without a tough fight from a pesky Ski-Doo Rev 800 with 151-inch track (Rev 151). And to our surprise, the King Cat found the going just a little tough, mainly due to its awesome powder track that has its limitations in hardpack conditions.
The King Cat wasn’t the only victim to the snow conditions. The Rev Extreme with 159-inch track also found the going a little tough as the Rev with the shorter track seemed to perform better in more of the conditions.
The Polaris Escape 800 consistently showed well … but could never edge the Cat or Ski-Doo for the top spot in any of the tests. As for the Yamahas … engine size, track length and overall sled weight all played a role in keeping them out of contention on the steep mountain slopes near Mt. Jefferson.
Four dealers spent three days going head-to-head in a variety of snow and terrain conditions. For the most part, each snowmobile was ridden by the same rider during each respective test. We had two competent riders (Mark Bourbeau and Ryan Harris) alternating between each specific test to eliminate the rider/weight factor from any of the results. Most of the tests were conducted with the Stalker Radar program hooked up to a laptop computer to measure each individual run. We could then return to the office and over-lay the runs to measure exactness in times and distances. (So when we refer to a sled being several sled lengths ahead of the competition, it’s based on computer data and not side-by-side running.)
Although we have excellent snow depths in the area … the two weeks prior to our test proved to be fatal to the concept of “deep powder challenge.” It was dry and hot … and dry and cold … and mostly just dry. By the time our mid-week event took place, the weekend warriors had marked up virtually every square inch of snow in the area. And whatever may have been missed was so set up and settled that track speed became more of a factor than flotation and track length.
However, for the most part we stayed on the extreme slopes—40 to 45 degrees—that required traction to propel the sleds up the steep pitches. It put both our riders and the sleds at a little more risk. But it at least created a separation between speed runs and hillclimbing. And whenever we did find an area with little or no tracks, we did our best to use it.
Day 1—Acceleration Tests
When it comes to a good old fashion drag race across a hard-pack meadow, there’s no replacement for displacement. The two big Cats put out the two fastest times and top speeds. And of the two, the 1M 900 EFI had the better track and hook-up to lead the way.
This year, the top speed over 2,000 feet was 82.4 mph, with the 1M 900 EFI covering the distance in 20.35 seconds. That means once the sled got up to speed it was covering more the 117 feet a second. The King Cat was a close second, topping out at 80.6 mph and covering the distance in 20.58 seconds.
However, at the start and during the first 200 feet, the Cats were trailing the Rev 151 by a full sled length. But during the mid part of the run—from about 5 seconds out to 15 seconds—the Cats shined, outdistancing the Ski-Doo by about nine sled lengths. The 800 Escape stayed reasonably close to the Cats, only falling behind by about 1.5 sled lengths.
In total, after 2,000 feet, or about 20 seconds, the 1M 900 EFI was about three sled lengths ahead of the King Cat, 6.5 sled lengths ahead of the 800 Escape and nine sled lengths ahead of the Rev 151.
Advantage in flatland riding—1M 900 EFI.
Day 1—Test Hill
Our first order of business was to ride back into the south-facing slopes of Mt. Jefferson to start our hill tests. Our usual hill was pretty much pounded down to a hardpack uphill drag track. It was about a 30-degree slope that covered approximately 700 feet. Although we usually do all the runs with our own test riders, we thought it would be nice to check our times with those of the dealer. So we ran two complete tests—one with Mark Bourbeau aboard and the other with the dealers riding. Our results were almost identical.
The Rev 151 rocketed out of the starting line and turned in the fastest time, bettering the 1M 900 EFI by a full sled length. The Cat seemed to make up the ground during the middle part of the run … and had the hill continued upward, chances are very likely the Cat would have closed the gap within another 200 feet.
And just behind the Cat was the other Rev 800 with the 159-inch track.
Advantage—Slightly to the Rev 151 only because we ran out of hill.
Day 1—Steep Uphill Tracked
With about everything tracked up, it was pretty hard to find a hill that would allow enough passes to accommodate all eight sleds. We had to do most of our runs on hardpack snow conditions. Our second run featured a hill we found with not too many tracks that offered about 750 feet of about a 45 degree slope. There was enough patched powder snow throughout this stretch to make the sleds work to keep their speed.
It was a little surprising to us that the Rev 151 shined. The shorter track allowed the Rev to generate more track speed, particularly through the midway part of the run, to beat the competition to the top of the hill. In a little over 13 seconds, the Rev 151 pulled out to a sled length lead over both the RMK 800 and 1M 900 EFI.
Two things, however, became obvious. The longer 159-inch tracks of the RMK 800 and 1M 900 EFI allowed them to take the holeshot up the mountain. And the 162-inch Attack 20 track of the King Cat would actually spin out on a hardpack and lose speed in those conditions.
Day 2—Uphill Snocross
It’s one thing to point and shoot up a slope. It’s another to make a turn and work the clutches through the backshift. That’s why we like running an uphill snocross run that covers about 800 feet with a sharp right, a sharp left and a sweeping right turn up a 40-degree slope. Although we stayed on a course, it consisted of loosely packed snow.
The first 100 feet into the sharp right turn showed the 1M 900 EFI rocket off the start, with the King Cat right behind within a nose of the sled. The second 100 feet was virtually a dead heat between the two Cats, with the Rev 151 and the Escape 700 within only fractions of a second behind.
The 1M 900 EFI proved to be the fastest sled over the first half of the course, but the Rev 151 turned in a faster time for the second half of the course. When all was said and done, the 1M 900 EFI covered the 800 feet in 20.77 seconds, with the King Cat a sled length behind at 21.02 seconds and the Rev 151 finishing third about 4.5 sled lengths behind at 21.83 seconds.
Advantage—1M 900 EFI.
Day 2—Packed Powder
Although most of the steep open slopes were fairly well marked up, we saw one hill that was only recently marked with single sets of tracks running through it. We considered it a fair hill with packed powder where the sleds would have to work to make it up the 45-degree slope covering about 750 feet.
With only about a 50-foot area to build momentum before getting lost into the loose snow, the Escape 700 pulled off the holeshot for the early lead. But by the time the first half of the hill was over, the 1M 900 EFI had assumed its position as the fastest. But during the second half of the mountain, it was the King Cat putting up the fastest times. Still, overall the 900 EFI covered the 750 feet in 17.5 seconds, followed by the King Cat, about two sled lengths back at 18.02 seconds and the Rev 151 four sled lengths back at 18.81 seconds.
Advantage—1M 900 EFI.
Day 2—Steep Packed
Finding good test hills for hard pack climbing was very easy. The only challenge was to find something where the steepness took some of the drag racing out of the run. We found one such hill that had to be more than 45 degrees in slope and went 800 feet straight up before it rounded out. It proved to be a great hill for the Ski-Doos.
The approach was rock-hard and almost immediately launched the sleds straight up. The Rev 151 and Rev 159 came out of the first 200 feet with identical times—7.54 seconds. As a contrast, the King Cat’s track did not take kindly to such a start and spun around for 11.45 seconds—pretty much making it a useless run for the big sled.
During the rest of the run, the Rev 151 continued to outdistance everything else, covering the 800 feet in 17.04 seconds—four sled lengths faster than the Rev 159 and five sled lengths better than the 1M 900 EFI.
Advantage—Rev 151. This thing was just strong going up the packed slope.
Day 2—Powder For Four
We came across one small area that was actually void of any previous tracks. (Maybe it was the two big trees near the base of the slope that discouraged anyone from marking up the snow.) Anyway, we figured it was good for four passes … which means we couldn’t test all eight sleds. So we took the one that seemed to be performing the best for each of the manufacturers and did a mini test.
We lined up the 1M 900 EFI, the Rev 151, the 800 Escape and the RX-1. The Rev 151 was by far the strongest out of the hole. But by the time the sleds reached the midway point it was all Cat. The Cat was over three seconds quicker than the Rev and 8.5 seconds faster than the Polaris. The RX-1 finished midway up the hill in a huge, self-induced hole.
Advantage—1M 900 EFI, big-time.
Day 2—Steep Powder
Finally, near the end of the second day we found one 40-degree slope that had an open spot just wide enough to run eight passes. Although there were no tracks in the area we would use, the sun had been shining on it all afternoon and the snow base was settled with the texture of mash potatoes.
This is where the horsepower of the Cats shined. Although the Escape 800 was the quickest through the first 100 feet, the 1M 900 EFI covered the area between 100-1,000 feet the fastest to outdistance the competition by more than 10 sled lengths … with the exception of the King Cat, which stayed right on the EFI’s heels right to the top.
Advantage—1M 900 EFI over the King Cat by a whisker … and over the rest by a lot.
The final day of our testing was based on good old fashioned boondocking and observation. Basically, we went out and had a lot of fun. We spent the entire morning in the trees, cutting across the face of Mt. Sawtelle from south to north. This meant diving down into steep and narrow drainages, climbing back out, picking lines through trees and holding sidehills—all in fresh snow. (It was easy to do this in untracked snow since nobody in his/her right mind would ever take the line we took across the mountain.)
As we watched how the sleds handled, it was pretty apparent boondocking is dependent on the rider and his imagination more than the sled. However, the nimbleness of the Escape 700 and 800 appeared to work well. But we can’t take anything away from the Cats or Ski-Doos. And at the end of the day, the Yamahas had gone everywhere everything else did.
Advantage—All of us who where playing in the trees instead of working at a real job.
When it comes to snowmobiling, dry weight doesn’t mean a lot. Think about it: If you’re on a sled that actually weighs the dry weight, you’re on a sled that’s out of gas and oil and is void of coolant. You ain’t going anywhere, anyway.
But for a point of reference, we wanted to see what the riding weight was (sled fully loaded with gas and oil) … although we did remove any of the added luxuries you usually pack such as a spare belt, shovel, etc. We didn’t think it was right to penalize a snowmobile just because you’re packing more gas than the competition. So here’s how you read this chart. We weighed all the sleds used for our Dealer Challenge, each being topped with fuel and oil. We then calculated the total weight of gas and oil. Then, taking the actual scale weight of the sleds (riding weight), we deducted the fuel weight to come up with our base weight.
Advantage—Rev 151 (but keep in mind we have to pack that nifty fuel jug that fits up under the seat just so we can get a full day’s ride out of the sled).
We always bring in a tech guy to give the sleds a thorough examination to ensure that everything’s stock according to the rules of our Dealer Challenge. As we do this, we also try to pull some basic numbers, such as compression checks, so you have some sort of idea where these sleds are.
Our compression checks were taken cold after the sleds were put away for the evening after the first day’s ride. We also took the time to measure the footprint of each sled so we could calculate how much track is on the snow. Our measurements were taken from the center of the rear axle to the front end of the track that first makes contact with a 2-inch block. Then we multiply the distance with the track width to get our footprint.