What Makes a Mountain Sled a Mountain Sled?

Published in the September 2008 Issue White Out & Wide Open—The Blog
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Thank heavens for the theory of evolution.

No, not that evolution, but the evolution of snowmobiles. What we have today in the world of snowmobiles is so far removed from the early days of snowmobiling that we'd be tempted to say the only thing they have in common is that they both went across snow.

Okay, maybe it's not quite that dramatic, but who wouldn't agree that the snowmobiles of today aren't vastly improved over what was offered not just in the beginning days of snowmobiling, but even 10 years ago.

And when it comes to snowmobiles designed strictly for the mountains, well, it wasn't much more than 10 years ago that the major snowmobile manufacturers started building snowmobiles for the deep powder and steep terrain of the western United States and Canada.

Like we said, thank heavens for evolution.

Prior to the introduction of mountain machines, sledders who rode the West either had to make due with a short track or modify it themselves to make it go through the deep powder.

Those who have been around this industry for any number of years know that a short track machine just doesn't get the job done in the West, unless you stay on the trail. If you opt for the trail route, if there just happens to be a big dump of snow, something the West is famous for, then you park your trail sled until the groomer comes by or plan on getting stuck. A lot.

There was a real need for longer-tracked machines that would make deep powder riding more enjoyable. But today's deep powder sleds are more than just a longer track, although that is as important a feature as any other on mountain sleds, but include sophisticated altitude compensating systems on the engines, lightweight chassis, suspension systems designed to handle the deep snow and handlebars intended for stand up riding.

Yes, there are quite a few differences between trail or short track (as those of us in the West call trail sleds) snowmobiles and mountain machines. The evolution of snowmobiles has led to a different anatomy, if you will, between the two distinct models of sled.

We've mentioned some of the things that differentiate the two, such as track, handlebars, etc., but we thought it might be interesting for us to take an in-depth look at the anatomy of a mountain snowmobile and what makes it really different from short tracks.

In other words, what makes a mountain snowmobile a mountain snowmobile? We've broken it down into nine different parts of the anatomy. Those are: engine, gauges, suspension (front and rear), track, seat, skis, handlebars, drive system/clutching and tunnel/chassis.

What we've attempted to do is show how these different parts of a snowmobile have evolved over the years and how they have come to be on a mountain sled and what, if any, differences there are in that part versus the same part on a short track.

We didn't try to write a comprehensive history of snowmobiles. That would fill volumes. Nor are we covering all the snowmobiles that have ever been made by companies no longer in existence. For purposes of simplicity, we've chosen to mostly talk about what today's Big Four-Arctic Cat, Polaris, Ski-Doo and Yamaha-have done over the years.

We simply wanted to look at what makes a mountain sled a mountain sled and how it came to be.

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