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A Tale of Four Snowmobiles

Published online: Jan 02, 2006 Column, Snow Tests Steve Janes and Charlie Dickens
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   It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of lightweight, it was the season of technology.

It was the fall of hope, it was the winter of aspiration. We had storm clouds before us, we had high pressure systems before us. We were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct to where the snow is deep. The 600 class was the competitive class, represented by all four major manufacturers, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

There was a Yamaha with a Genesis 120 4-stroke and a Polaris with IQ suspension; there was a Ski-Doo with a wide track and an Arctic Cat with a lightweight chassis. In the snowmobile industry it was clear that the best of all technologies were represented in the 600 class of sleds.

Life was good everywhere. Yet discontent and a desire for more power abound. Thus did the year 2005 conduct its greatnesses, and myriads of snowmobiles-the snowmobiles of this chronicle among the rest-along the trails that lay before them.


Literary Reviews

The year is 2005. Weather patterns have plagued both the Midwest and West. Although we don't have a drama involving orphans, long-lost fathers, crooked lawyers, aristocratic attitudes and a revolution blended into a love story, ending in the tragic deaths . there is still plenty of intrigue. After all, we have four snowmobiles-two with major changes, two with minor changes-competing in the most contested market in the industry.

And although we don't have an ill-fated love story that has the heroine dying from a bullet fired from her own gun or the hero meeting his demise at the guillotine, we have found things we love about the new models . and things we're still dying to see improved.

We look back on the past and see a glimpse of the future. We look toward the future and see a reflection of the past. The evolution of sleds has seen the increase in size and performance. Yet at the same time, manufacturers are actively trying to decrease size while making sleds environmentally friendly.

Sleds have evolved from the 600-sized sleds being the big, bulky muscle sleds of the `80s to being the small, friendly family sleds of the 21st century. Yet they are somewhat larger and more powerful than when they were considered muscle sleds.

As the journals of the past capture how things were, the imperfections of one's memory of what once was tend to abstract the facts into euphoria of what seems to be. Thus, in the days gone bye, snow was deeper, mountains were steeper, sleds were more powerful and we were as gladiators in quest of white dragons. It is this corruption of our reminiscence that induces us to the belief that a 600cc chariot is unworthy for a modern-day knight.

Lest we fall from our pedestal of self grandeur, let us take a deep breath, cast our eyes around the presence of a modern reality and recognize things for what they are, not for what they are perceived to be.

The 600 class sled may not be the biggest, the baddest, the most intimidating snowmobile on the market . but as Dickens politely put it, it ain't no chopped liver, either.


Tale Of Four Sleds

As we reviewed the four snowmobiles in this class for 2006, we found that each were unique, with some characteristics of greatness and other characteristics that weren't so grand.

For example, the Arctic Cat M6 shined in the powder, but shimmied down the trail. The Polaris RMK 600 sparkled in rough terrain, yet sputtered in the fluff. The Ski-Doo Summit 600 HO excelled in the trees, but was exhausting on a sidehill. And the Yamaha Vector Mountain was responsive on the trail, but needed to be resuscitated in the powder.

Harsh words for a cruel world. Some say exaggerated. Some say opinionated. But regardless of who's realm of reality, the fact remains that much could be done to bridge the gap of public impressions. Here's what the authors of the SnoWest SnowTests said in their unpretentious, yet pompous appraisals.

M6

Obscured by the shadow of its big brother, the M7, the M6 is definitely an over-achiever. Riders find it stable yet skittish. It jumps around like a Mexican jumping bean, yet stays level and quite predictable . as long as you keep it pointed straight in the bumps. In steep terrain, it tends to hold a level plane and offers incredible control. Nimble. Skis, handlebars and suspension seem to offer a cosmic balance to the ride, working in harmony.

In the powder, it comes to life, responding to the slightest encouragement of body English. It's not discriminatory on whether you're standing or sitting. Both offer a natural feel. When standing, the running boards bestow a secure platform, although they could be a tad anemic on traction and have a tendency to amass snow in the powder. But they are fairly easy to clean. When sitting, the seat is tall enough to keep you on top of the sled. The padding is perfect . but the design may be a slight too narrow with a taper that wants to feed you to the fuel tank.

The skis offer excellent flotation. The handlebars are perhaps the most functional in the entire industry for powder riding. And the track is a superb powder track, getting you on top of the snow quickly and providing excellent traction in the powder.

The M6 is by far the best of the class for sidehilling. It also ranks with the best in boondocking and deep powder. It will hold its own on the trails.

Summit 600

With the advent of the Summit 1000, the 600 seemed to get smaller. But don't be fooled. Just because there are now two bigger brothers, the Summit 600 doesn't need any help holding its own in the mountains.

The 600 HO is a great engine. Combined with its light weight, the Summit 600 offers a crisp, instant throttle response that is very torquey and pulls hard out of the hole. And the Rev suspension package offers a solid ride . although you can really appreciate the better shock package found on the X models. But with the forward riding position, many find their first impressions of the Summit as a little tippy and intimidating.

In the powder the Summit is easy to control. The deeper the snow, the better it floats. Wide running boards offer the very best in foot traction, with plenty of room for those who are active on their feet. And don't worry about snow buildup here.

For those who spend a lot of time on the seat, the Summit has a great feel, although some feel that it's a tad too wide with just a little too much grip. The handlebars are almost too wide, especially when trying to reach across to sidehill. The track is solid. It offers a good, wide footprint with great traction, yet is very mobile and easy to control. As for the skis . well, we're still waiting to see how the latest version of Ski-Doo's new mountain ski is going to work.

RMK 600

Designed to be more proficient going through the big bumps rather than deep powder, the RMK 600 offers a great ride and the best rider comforts. But it does fall a little short in attacking the deep powder.

It has a decent engine, nothing to write poems about, with instant throttle response and a torquey feel. But it has some weight issues in must overcome to provide the level of confidence you need to venture into the ugly terrain that requires a lot of technical riding. But still, true to the RMK reputation, this sled may not set any speed records in the powder, but it keeps going and going and going.

The IQ chassis is quite stable for having a higher rider position. Although it has some front body roll off the trail, the suspension package works great in the big whoops you face on popular ungroomed backcountry trails. It is nose heavy, so at times it steers heavy. It does stay level in the air, however, so you're not afraid to launch it when the opportunities present themselves.

The seat is the best in the industry-great height, comfortable width and just the right amount of grip. It facilitates a standing or sitting rider position. The skis offer good flotation and handle well on hardpack. The adjustable handlebars are okay . maybe a tad wide ... and the hook grips have a very comfortable feel. The narrow running boards serve their purpose and provide good traction on the roll. The track hooks up in all snow conditions.

Vector Mtn.

If you're going to pack the most weight, you better deliver the most power. The Vector Mtn., three-cylinder 4-stroke, may be just a tad soft in the horsepower category for the weight issue it has to overcome. It's a little soft, sluggish. And although there is likely more than enough power available, it has the feel that you don't have quite the performance to match the chassis.

But one thing about the Vector, it's as smooth a sled as you'll find. And stable. Although it may be a tad too wide in boondocking through trees and is nose heavy in big bumps, it absorbs the bumps and provides a great ride in rough conditions. Overall, it has pretty decent balance.

Rider ergonomics is impressive. The seat is comfortable, although it could be a tad higher. The skis are aggressive and work great in most snow conditions. The handlebars are great. This new design is taller, just the perfect width, and have a very comfortable feel. The running boards serve their purpose . nothing special. They do have a tendency to allow the snow to build up. The track has good flotation and hooks up in most snow conditions.

Overall, the Vector is probably a little weak in its class . but offers the greatest amount of potential if one's inclined to do some modifications (read turbo). And it is the most environmental-friendly sled around.

Epilogue

Snowmobiles have evolved over the past two decades. What was once powerful is now considered soft. What was once heavy is lighter than what is considered light.

Amidst the blanket of winter's sanitizing cover, somewhere beyond the limits of contentment and bliss, that perfect snowmobile lies waiting. For many, a tendency to err on the side of voracity-choosing that which is popular over that which is practical-will lead them to a course of discontent. But alas, the choices made of others will be the markers for those to come. But for one so humble as to accept his position in life, to settle for the simple joys of a 600 class sled, is indeed to settle for greatness.

It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known. My choice is simple; my path unknown. Let it snow.