Has the mountain segment of 800 class snowmobiles ever been as competitive as it is going into the 2012 model year? With the proven Ski-Doo Summit, the remarkable Polaris Pro RMK and the promising Arctic Cat ProClimb, we have the makings for a spectacular battle for king of the hill on western slopes.
One sled is refined. One is coming off a rookie season that surpassed the expectations of its users. And one is coming onto the scene with a proven motor, durability-tested platform and high expectations.
Right now there's no way to predict a winner. But by the looks of things, there certainly aren't going to be any losers.
By now the hardcore enthusiasts have made their decision as to which sled they were willing to put their money on. And there's also that segment of buyers who will wait until the end of the season to see which of the three models panned out (maybe there are some losers out there after all). But right now there are those who still haven't made up their mind as to which sled they should buy. And they are beginning to run out of time with the first snow clouds starting to form in the higher elevations and inventories in dealerships running low..
Here are your choices:
The Summit, which introduced engine technology that has been out on the slopes for two years;
The Pro RMK, which hit the slopes this past year with a radically lightweight platform;
The ProClimb, which blends a proven engine on a race-proven chassis modified for mountain riding.
Of all three, everyone seems to have questions. Some have collected seat time on one or two of the models this past winter since the Ski-Doo and Polaris were out on the snow in full force. Some have even managed to put these two sleds through head-to-head comparisons. But only a handful of individuals have had a chance to get all three of these sleds out on the snow at the same time. And with that limited exposure, it seems more questions were discovered than answers revealed.
SnoWest SnowTest Crew Impressions
So here is our take on those three sleds. First, the Summit 8 is the most stable snowmobile on the snow. Its platform allows it to remain flat and balanced in almost all snow conditions. It handles the bumps superbly. It crawls through the trees and powers up the slopes.
The Summit has plenty of power which comes in smooth and consistent. It seems the longer the slope, the more you feel the power. You never have a concern for the engine; however, you do sense a lot of stress on the clutch because the Summit just keeps going and going. (Here we recommend some added venting on the clutch side to allow some of the heat buildup to escape. This will likely help your belt life and ease some of your concerns when you're pulling a long deep powder climb.)
The Summit tends to have one weakness mixed in with all of its strengths-sidehilling. For whatever reason, when you cut a sidehill across a slope, the Summit wants to creep up in elevation. As long as you have plenty of hill, going up isn't a problem. But if you are trying to go straight across a hill, hitting a certain spot on the other side, then creeping uphill becomes a problem.
If you are in heavier snow conditions, the Summit creates an issue trying to find a balance point when you tip it on its side. Its tendency is to try to level itself. Again, if you're pulling a sidehill this will cause you to struggle to keep the sled on its side.
As for the Pro RMK, sidehilling is its strength . especially in real technical terrain. When you lay this sled on its side it is easy to find a balance point. Also, the Polaris track just works superbly when it's cutting a sidehill. This might be due to the narrower running boards that are less likely to compete with the track in the snow.
Although we may question the overall horsepower of the Pro RMK, due to its lightweight design we feel there is sufficient power to take you anywhere any other stock 800 can go.
The only question you need to ask yourself about the new Pro RMK chassis is whether you are capable of learning how to ride it. The sled is designed to respond to rider position and throttle control, perhaps better than any snowmobile ever built. But that means you have to know where to stand and how to use your throttle and brake. Those who can have the confidence to take this sled anywhere. Those who can't are constantly fighting with control issues.
In some aspects, the new Pro RMK is much like the first Summits on the Rev chassis-riders either loved them or hated them, depending on if they could figure out their role in controlling the new chassis design.
So now as we look at the new Cats, the same questions will need to be answered: What role will riding style and rider input play in the success of this newly designed chassis?
We know Cat has a reputation of building a solid powerplant that will deliver plenty of power to the track. And Cat has always had track designs that work well in deep snow. So getting the power to the track won't be an issue. But what will be at issue is a new chassis that has been successful on the snocross course. Will it be able to adapt to mountain riding?
There are a few questions we've answered: First, the ProClimb will be able to handle the bumps. No longer will the Cat be the weak link on a rough mountain trail. But what we didn't get a handle on is how well the Cat will respond to tight turns and sidehills. First impressions seemed to be favorable. But obviously we weren't able to try the ProClimb in a variety of snow conditions.
We liked what we saw . but we need to see more. That makes this coming winter very intriguing to us. We know that any first-year model still has some bugs to be worked out. We're just anxious to see what kind of bugs they are and how big an issue they may present. But thanks to a long spring with plenty of deep snow for extended testing, we feel the Cat engineers will solve most if not all these issues before the new models are released for 2012.
In our rider impressions, the Pro RMK seemed to be the best riding choice from the SnoWest SnowTest staff when it came to overall riding conditions. That said, we really couldn't separate it from the dependability of the Summit and the unique modern design of the ProClimb. All three snowmobiles offered a ton of positives and no clear defined negatives.
When it comes to track length, the mid length (155, 154 and 153) tracks were clearly better in the greatest variety of snow conditions. We recognize that there will be some riders who will sacrifice handling for flotation and track speed. That's why the 163 and 162 tracks are available. But recognize that when you go to the longer track you will lose a bit of handling and mobility in the trees.
So in a nutshell, here is what you have to choose from for 2012.
Polaris-These four models are all back for a second season of domination in the mountains. They were all new for 2011, which makes them officially "new and improved" for 2012.
- 800 Pro RMK 163
- 800 Pro RMK 155
- 800 RMK Assault 155
- 800 RMK 155
Ski-Doo-If there's not something you want in these 10 models, then you are just too picky. The difference between Summit models and Freerides is in the suspension packages. The Summit Sport is the only 800 with the carbureted version. The Freeride is for the extreme mountain riders.
- Summit X 163
- Summit X 154
- Summit X 146
- Freeride 154
- Freeride 146
- Freeride 137
- Summit SP 163
- Summit SP 154
- Summit SP 146
- Summit Sport Power TEK 154
Arctic Cat-The new Cat uses its race program to enhance the development of its consumer sled. The ProClimb chassis comes directly from the race sled and features a lighter chassis with pyramid design. It has a one-piece spindle forged with computer designing and a very simple steering system . no complicated geometry. The two-piece tunnel is tapered to improve leg ergonomics. The engine may be the same, but everything around it has been redesigned. The air intake designed to be quiet while providing the best air flow to produce power. Cat offers four mountain sleds in the 800 class.
- ProClimb M 800 Sno Pro 162
- ProClimb M 800 Sno Pro 153
- ProClimb M 800 153
- ProClimb M 800 HCR 153
SnoWest SnowTest Picks
As we rode the 2012 sleds, we focused on a list of questions to help us formulate our opinions. Here are the results.
Which sled has the most significant changes? No brainer. Arctic Cat.
Which sled feels the most powerful? Ski-Doo scores a split decision over Cat and Polaris.
Which sled has the best powerband for boondocking? No decision here. All seem to make plenty of power for mountain riding.
Which sled has the best suspension? When it comes to the bumps, the Ski-Doo still shines. However, both Cat and Polaris have shown significant improvements in their base models. And if you throw the HCR and Assault in the mix, all do a great job in rough terrain.
What sled has the best track? Here we are split between the Polaris and Cat. The Polaris shines when cutting across the sidehill. But the Cat track works great in all conditions.
What sled has the best brakes? Brakes are brakes. They stop the track from moving. All seem to do what they are designed to do. Ski-Doo has the easiest setting park brake. And the Cat brake works well in conjunction with "touch brake" control while flying down a trail.
Which sled has the best seat? Ski-Doo tends to fit our wide butts well.
Which sled has the best running boards? Cat gives you a good platform and facilitates quick snow removal.
Which sled has the best handlebar/controls setup? Cat wins a split decision over Ski-Doo and Polaris.
Which sled has the best skis? Polaris . no contest.
Which sled feels the lightest on snow? Polaris edges out Ski-Doo.
Which sled sidehills best? Polaris edges out Cat.
Which sled handles best in deep snow? Polaris.
Which sled has the best gauges? We split here between Cat and Ski-Doo.
Which sled is our pick for the top 800 mountain sled for 2012? When it comes to a pure mountain snowmobile, the SnoWest SnowTest staff is somewhat unified in thinking the Polaris 800 RMK is the sled to beat on the slopes.