As this winter unfolded, the snowmobile industry found out something that many of us probably believed could never happen-if we had snow, snowmobiles would sell and people would be out riding.
The sorry state of the economy has shot that theory right down-almost in flames.
"We used to say if it snows, we'd sell snowmobiles," Scott Swenson, vice president of the snowmobile division for Polaris said in mid January. "We found the economy trumps snowfall."
Swenson's analysis of the present world economic situation was echoed by Roc Lambert, vice president and general manager of Ski-Doo, Sea-Doo and Evinrude for Bombardier Recreational Products. He said, "The economy remains a challenge."
So what exactly does that mean for the 2010 model lineup from the Big Four-Arctic Cat, Polaris, Ski-Doo and Yamaha? Things have been scaled back, model lineups scrutinized and cut and a cautious approach taken for the future.
That doesn't mean, however, the industry has come to a screeching halt. Sledders are riding. Snowmobiles are selling. People are enjoying the winter.
It's just not what many industry insiders expected, what with the great snowfall in many parts of the country.
And the snowmobile manufacturers, while trying to figure out how to survive in a battered economy, certainly aren't hanging their heads, taking their ball and walking off the playground. We just finished up our Sneak Peek tour of the 2010 models and they continue to be optimistic about what the future holds. We are snowmobilers after all-eternal optimists.
Lambert said, "2009 will bring some challenges but we look forward to these challenges."
And while most of us are still enjoying the winter of 2008-09, we've got an eye on 2010 and what the industry is offering-especially for those of us in the West.
While there aren't any real new from the track up sleds for 2010 there are a truckfull of improvements and refinements on nearly every mountain model from each of the Big Four. To some, that might be disappointing, but we consider the economic climate and are just excited to see that the manufacturers continue to bring us good sleds for the deep snow and steep mountains.
The western market continues to be an important segment for the manufacturers as 32.4 percent of snowmobile sales take place in the West. That's a pretty healthy figure and we don't see any reason for it to change dramatically once the 2009 models sales figures are released.
While we'd all like to see gobs of new technology and hence, new models, that's just not in the cards for 2010. Having said that, we think we're pretty fortunate to have some great hardware on the snow right now that will help soothe those newer technology yearnings-for a while.
The upgrades for 2010 will help tide us over.
The Big Four
Arctic Cat made huge strides in the M Series lineup for 2009. That just gets better for 2010 with the release of its new 800 H.O., which promises to pump up the horsepower of that powerplant. The Ms also come with a new spiffy seat for next season and new skis. The HCR, announced last September, is also more widely available for 2010.
Engine sizes available for next season on the Ms include the 600, new 800 H.O. and the 1000.
Polaris trimmed its mountain lineup by one model for 2008-the 700 RMK is gone (much to our dismay; that was one of our favorites)-as well as dropped the Shift models. That leaves the Minnesota snowmobile manufacturer with the 800 Dragon RMK, 800 RMK, 800 Assault RMK, 600 RMK and Trail RMK in varying track lengths.
All liquid-cooled RMKs get a new seat material and all RMKs with 155- and 163-inch tracks will have a single layer track for 2010. The Dragon models were the only sleds with the single layer track in 2009. Finally, the 600 RMK and 800 RMK with the 144-inch track will now feature the Switchback seat, which is lower and wider.
Ski-Doo continues to be No. 1 in terms of sales in the West and perhaps has the most curious-at least on the surface-release for the 2010 season. The lineup from Ski-Doo remains relatively unchanged for 2010. If sledders act right away (like this Spring), they can purchase a Summit X-RS Hillclimb, which is a racer's version of the Summit X.
Ski-Doo dropped the Summit Fan model, making the Summit Sport, with a 600 carb engine, the new entry-level machine for the company.
Ski-Doo also refined its SC-5 (now called the SC-5M) rear suspension as well as the Summit's handling to help it roll up better in the powder. There's also a new seat on the Summits.
In addition to the 600 carb, Summits are available with the 800 PowerTek and very cool 600 E-Tec motors.
Yamaha comes to the mountains with a reworked Nytro MTX, now the Nytro MTX SE with a 153- or 162-inch track, new front suspension geometry, less weight and ProMountain Air rear suspension. There's a new tunnel as well on the Nytro MTX, along with a single-ply Camoplast track.
Also returning for 2010 are the Apex MTX and Phazer MTX.
We've had a chance to throw a leg over most of the 2010 mountain machines, but mostly on a somewhat limited basis. We'll get more of a chance to ride those new bad boys by the time you read this and will give you a full report in next season's issues. For now, we'll update you more in detail on the latest from each manufacturer in the following pages.