It's one of the most common sayings known to man and we all have heard it one time or another: "Well, it was just beginner's luck."
With this thought in mind, if you are a beginner in the full-sized snowmobile market, yes, you are in luck. It doesn't matter whether you're a youngster transitioning from a 120 or an adult who is a newbie to the sport, the 2005 Arctic Cat, Polaris and Ski-Doo entry-level snowmobiles are built to fulfill this niche.
Now we don't want to be caught stereotyping this entry level or beginner situation because we readily admit some riders' size and/or skill level would never justify owning a Summit Fan, Trail RMK or M5, yet a smaller, more reserved jockey could be perfectly content with the 70-80 hp of go-ability forever.
Liquid Or Air
So you've been living right and the good luck keeps coming your way in the entry level category but the shopping won't be as easy as you might think with the three choices available. The 2005 Arctic Cat M5 is motivated by a liquid-cooled 500cc Suzuki twin, whereas the Polaris Trail RMK and Ski-Doo Summit both are powered by a 550cc fan-cooled, two-cylinder engine.
Of course, the liquid-cooled Cat offers the most horsepower of the three and because of the higher and more consistent horsepower of the M5 it has the biggest track of the three. The Cat is fitted with a 15x141x1.6 Attack 20 track. This combo gives the M5 the ability to do an incredible job of cutting a fresh track through deep powder.
The more docile power of the Ski-Doo turns a 15x136x1.5 and the Polaris a 15x136x1.25 track. This puts them at a bit of a disadvantage in the powder compared to the Cat, resulting in more of a tag-along machine rather than a trail breaker.
Class Within A Class
The Trail RMK for '05 is a warmed over 2004 that was a completely new package for this class a season ago. The Edge-based Trail RMK gets off-trail capabilities from its Dual Angle Tunnel and more narrow running boards, offering deep snow clearance and less drag while keeping a low center of gravity. Good trail manners come from the Escape front suspension with Nitrex Gas Shocks and Dual Purpose Rail rear suspension complete with a Nitrex Gas shock along with an Indy Select Shock absorber that features an infinite range of compression adjustment.
For 2005, the Summit Fan comes to us with a major change as it is built on the Rev chassis, which in two years has become a hot topic of discussion among snowmobilers because of its different characteristics in comparison to a more "conventional" chassis. One thing that is a general consensus with the SnoWest test staff after logging major seat time is that the Rev is a great powder chassis. We also agree that this was a vast improvement for this fanner. The little Dooer sits on the Response Angle Suspension up front and the Super Comfort 136 rear suspension out back, rounding out this great all-around performer.
Arctic Cat has introduced an all-new 2005 M-Series snowmobile for Western riders, and yes, that beginner's luck continues as Cat let this new technology trickle down to the entry level class. The M5 is designed for a specific discipline as the capital M would indicate mountain riding. The M5 is built on the narrower and lighter WF2 chassis sporting the ACT Drive System that lowers the center of gravity while enhancing drive line efficiency and weight reduction.
The AWS VI front suspension and FasTrack Long Travel rear skid produce an acceptable ride, although our testing proved that the 500 Suzuki runs hard enough that the better IFP gas shocks would be a nice addition or option.
The M5 has created a class within a class as its more specific package, more power and more traction/flotation, puts this Cat in a league of its own.
When you talk entry level, a person automatically thinks Econo Box. Don't let this mislead you as the M5, Trail RMK and Summit Fan have been blessed with some features which enhance the Western riding experience-features you might only expect on the more expensive models. All three entries come with mountain-specific skis for increased performance and flotation, a mountain handlebar package for added leverage and comfort, running board boot traction to keep your feet under you as you make off-trail maneuvers and a rear cargo rack for packing extra goodies along.
The Ski-Doo and Arctic Cat have an adjustable ski stance to change handling and accommodate different riding styles.
Found on the Polaris and Ski-Doo is electronic reverse, which gets you backed out of those tight spots, and the garage, and the trailer and the . .
We've talked to a few sledders the past few months who are seriously looking at the three sleds in this class. Some of those sledders are newbies, some are looking for something their younger kids can ride, and, a little surprising to us, some are just looking for a smaller cc sled that can still go off-trail when called upon. One other factor came into play, too. The price. Entry level sleds are almost half the price of the high-end machines. And that's something some sledders just won't look past.
That's what makes these fans and 500 such a perfect choice for those sledders we just mentioned. These machines are the best all-around choice for those we just described.
So, good (beginner's) luck with your new adventure.