Not that anyone has been keeping track, but it's been 10 years since we last gave out awards of any kind in SnoWest Magazine.
Oh, we've talked about our favorite sled or favorite this or that part, but nothing where we've placed the official "award" moniker to it.
Well, we're back in the award biz-sort of. We're not going to tell you what the sled of the year is-we'll wait until the snow dust settles from the Deep Powder Challenge later this winter to do that. But there is some excellent hardware on the western slopes these days with unique innovations. We wanted to highlight the little things that make snowmobiles work so well in extreme conditions, and some not-so-little things. You'll agree with some while others might get your dander up a bit. That's okay. Not even all of the SnoWest SnowTest staff agreed on everything but it was fun to "discuss" it as we generally settled on the major highlights of various mountain sleds.
We have created 28 awards that are likely overlooked by those other publications that like giving awards.
So here is what we think of various pieces and parts of each snowmobile manufacturer's mountain machines.
Vertical: The New Horizontal Award: Vertical Steering
Back in the day, most snowmobilers kept their butts firmly planted on the seat and "drove" snowmobiles. But somewhere along the way riders started getting up off the seat and began riding their sleds. Cat realized that vertical steering allowed a rider to move around the sled more easily and provided more consistent handling in turning. So by moving the steering post more upright, it allowed a more consistent horizontal turn for the bars . unless of course you were pointing straight up a mountain, which then turned the post horizontal and the bars vertical . if you get the picture.
Tower Of Power Award: 4-Stroke Turbo
Arctic Cat features the strongest stock engine in the industry with the 4-stroke turbo. This monster produces 177 hp at 7850 rpm with 121-ft-lbs. of torque at 7300 rpm-regardless of elevation or temperature. The intercooled turbo works off 9 psi of boost while a waste gate control valve regulates intake pressure to reduce turbo lag.
Riverboat Casino Award: PowerClaw Track
The 2.6-inch PowerClaw Track offers the thrust of a riverboat paddle . but once you point it up a mountain, the rest of your ride you're gambling with gravity. This track works to get you up on top of the snow and up on top of the mountain. It's like you're gambling with gravity every time you point it up.
Holding The Line Award: ProClimb Chassis
There is nothing like the balance of the Cat. You pull it on its side and you can keep it there all day. The ProClimb chassis features a neutrally-balanced rider position on an ultra-rigid and strong platform. There is no unpredictability in this chassis. It is responsive and consistent. You pick the line and it will stay where you want it.
Sears Tower Award: Tall Spindles
Spindles are as tall as the Sears Tower (especially when compared to industry norms). But the new design replaces the two-mounting-hole design with one mounting hole that is located 15mm closer to the spindle for a 15 percent increase in turning radius. The one-piece forged spindles are designed to reduce force/load transfer by allowing a longer distance between the upper and lower A-arms.
Reach For The Sky Award: Telescopic Steering
Whether you are tall or short, the telescopic steering post puts the handlebars right where you want them. The M 800 Sno Pro and HCR models feature a quick-adjusting Telescoping Steering system that allows you to position your bars exactly where you want them at that moment and quickly readjust them to the changing conditions. There are a dozen different setting locations (in 3/8-inch increments) accessible by a simple hand-operated locking collar.
The Heat Is On Award: Front-Only Heat Exchanger
Cat's cooling system is designed to not only effectively cool the engine, but to create enough heat to eliminate ice buildup in the tunnel. The HCR-style front-only heat exchanger eliminates 5 lbs. of dry weight while potentially preventing up to 50 lbs. of ice build-up weight. This is like using a problem to solve a problem; efficiency in engineering.
Other Side Of The Tracks Award: Ascent Track
While the competition is based in the 2-stroke world, Yamaha designed the Ascent Track to deal with the power of a 4-stroke. The tips of the track lugs flex enough to allow the Ascent Track to get up on top of the snow. The lower two-thirds of the lug are designed to provide the thrust necessary to propel the sled forward, even when the track is powered on boost. Throw in a pair of single-piece extrovert drive sprockets and you have less rotating mass and decreased vibration.
Cool Under Pressure Award: Clutching
Yamaha doesn't just put a clutch on its 4-stroke engines. Engineers literally match the clutch to the power of the engine to make them more efficient. By designing a clutch to operate at lower rpm, Yamaha has reduced heat and stress created between the clutches and drive belt. So you end up with better belt wear, better belt life and less engine heat build-up..
Clean, One Owner Award: Durability
No other sled allows you to the kind of dependability like Yamaha does. Putting 30,000 to 50,000 miles on the sled isn't a problem with the sled . but it may be a problem with you if you don't get out and ride. A powerful 4-stroke engine with advanced fuel injection provides spot-on power response when you flick the throttle. This sled was built to last. You don't see many used 4-stroke Yamahas on the market, but when you do you know they are likely clean, one owner . who may or may not have only driven them on Sundays to church.
Calling In Air Support Award: ProMountain Air Rear Suspension
The Nytro MTX features a totally redesigned rear suspension that is highlighted with Fox Float shocks for lightweight performance. The front suspension also features Fox Floats which eliminates steel coil springs, making the entire suspension cleaner and lighter. Once you figure out your own personal optimum setting, you feel like you're flying through the air just looking for moguls or snow drifts to attack.
Satisfaction Guaranteed Award: Yamaha Extended Service
Does Yamaha offer the best service package in the industry? Say YES-Yamaha Extended Service. This package is designed to cover repair costs, towing fees, even replacement rental costs so you are never out any time on the snow. It's a transferable protection service which increases the resale value of your snowmobile over the life of the sled. You can't beat that.
Gentlemen: Start Your Engines Award: Electric Start
It's nice to have a "turn key" operation. Every Yamaha snowmobile comes with electric start . which means they don't come with a rope on a handle. Yamaha's fuel injection system is designed to provide superior starting performance, even in extreme cold temperatures where a rich air/fuel mixture is necessary for instantaneous ignition.
Blue Light Special Award: Excellent Resale Value
No other snowmobile holds its resale value like a Yamaha. Since 2002, Yamaha has offered advances in 4-stroke engine design technology, just one of the reasons that Yamaha snowmobiles have maintained high resale values. Something as simple as Yamaha's 3-cylinder low-pressure casting upper case and closed-deck type cylinder structure offers a functional lightweight design while accommodating a complex high tech powerplant.
Polaris Top Features
Side Show Award: Pro Ride Chassis
Backcountry mountain riding isn't about cruising down the trail to an open hillside and climbing it 30 times. It's about pointing the front bumper in one direction and conquering any terrain you come across in the next 30 miles. The Polaris Pro Ride chassis is as comfortable on its side as it is flat on its skis. That means you can sidehill it for miles, through ruts, across hard ridges, over rocks and rotten snow . we've tried it all and if you've got a three-mile canyon with a nasty V-bottom to avoid, the Polaris will stick to the sidehill like a moth to a TV screen.
What's Missing Award: PowderTrac Running Boards
What's missing is the annoying and heavy buildup of snow and ice on the running board. Half of the area on Polaris' new extruded aluminum running boards is open for maximum snow evacuation. What's not missing is the squishy feel of a flexible running board thanks to the PowderTrac's rigid design. Careful here: jump the seat and miss the boards with your boot once and you'll be giving it the Shredded Shins award.
Confidence Booster Award: Pro RMK
We've all been there: a weak moment on the rider's part puts the sled in a sticky situation. It seems like it's easiest to get out of a jam when you're on the Pro RMK. The combination of its rigid chassis, smooth power delivery, throttle response and quick reaction to rider input make it go where it's told to go, leaving the rider feeling like he can conquer anything. Almost anything.
Yanking My Chain Award: QuickDrive Low Inertia Drive System
Polaris is yanking your chain for 2013-yanking it right off of the Pro RMK. The chain and chaincase are replaced with the QuickDrive Low Inertia Drive System, which is a lot of words for saying belt drive. The result is a 21 percent reduction in inertia which, according to Polaris, translates to 5 lbs. less effort the rider has to exert to flick the sled around. The QuickDrive includes the extruded drive shaft, lightweight brake disc and maintenance-free belt drive.
Best-Designed, Least-Used Feature Award: Pro Lite Seat
Least-used feature? If you're using the seat as a chair while you ride the western Rockies, you're doing it wrong. Mountain sled seat design is changing to keep it out of the way as you hop from side to side and swing your leg across. The 2013 Pro RMK's Pro Lite seat is shorter (lengthwise) by 5.5 inches, allowing you to easily swing a leg from one side to the other. It's also 3.75-inches wider with a flatter area for more comfortable sitting. Ok, we get tired at the end of the day, too.
Lightest Sled On The Mountain Award: 2013 Pro RMK 155
We've been demanding lighter mountain snowmobiles since . well, since the first one. Weights have fluctuated for decades, but Polaris has managed to keep its Pro RMK weight numbers headed in the right direction without any major compromise in durability. For that Polaris deserves credit. We've always wanted a 400-pound dry weight mountain sled and the 2013 Pro RMK 800 155 is within 17 lbs. of that.
High Carbon Fiber Diet Award: Carbon Fiber Overstructure
Polaris feels that a rider exerts less energy and therefore rides better longer into the day if the chassis is both rigid and lightweight. Then the company put its money where its mouth is and designed a carbon fiber overstructure to lighten up the Pro Ride chassis while maintaining its rigidity. It's a diet plan we can stick with.
Game Changer Award: Ski-Doo Summit Rev XM
The widely-heralded King of the Mountain-the Polaris Pro RMK-might just be looking over its shoulder this winter as the Summit X will be breathing down its snow flap and hot on its trail. The Summit X is that good and should challenge the RMK's western dominance. It's going to be a fun battle to watch-and participate in.
Flexible Rate Award: FlexEdge Trade
Just like a flexible rate mortgage allows you to control and manage your monthly payments, Ski-Doo's innovative new track gives you the flexibility to do what you want to do when you want to do it and how you want to do it. You are in control of the sled in all kinds of terrain and in all kinds of conditions from deep powder to hard pack.
The track, which is still 16 inches wide, uses fiberglass reinforcing rods that are only 12 inches wide, which means the outside two inches on each side of the track flexes, allowing easier roll-up and giving the sled some "bite" while sidehilling. Think of it as having the maneuverability of a narrow track and the flotation of a wide track.
Mr. Clean Award: Rotax E-Tec 800R Engine
There's a reason you don't hear any arguments as to which sled manufacturer has the cleanest 2-stroke engine. Plain and simple, it's Ski-Doo. Not only is the E-Tec the cleanest two-stroke on the snow, it's the most powerful in the 800cc class with a claimed 163.9 hp.
There is virtually no smoke or smell, even when firing the sled up or while the sled is idling and the E-Tec has the lowest emissions of any 800 on the market. E-Tec technology also helps the engine to be a leader in low oil consumption.
Location, Location, Location Award: New Sled Ergonomics On The Rev XM
Wow, where to start. Much of mountain riding has to do with where the rider is on the machine. Body position makes a lot of difference in deep powder riding, sidehilling, hillclimbing. To get the rider farther forward on the Rev XM chassis, Ski-Doo made changes to the area at the front of the running boards. Riders can now put their feet 8 inches farther forward on the running boards compared to the Rev XP chassis. Speaking of running boards, Ski-Doo has redesigned those as well, giving 87 percent more surface opening to allow the snow to fall through and your feet stay planted instead of slipping around. The extrusions are taller on the edges and three times stronger than the Rev XP extrusion.
The days of planting your butt in the seat for lengthy periods of time are long gone as mountain riders want a seat to be there for an occasional rest and not be in the way when jumping from one side to the other. The seat on the Rev XM is shorter by a whopping six inches and a half-inch shorter height-wise. Bonus: there's still a small storage compartment.
Motion To Recess Award: tMotion Rear Suspension
Recess as in taking the work out of mountain riding. Rolling the Summit up on its side to play in the powder or sidehill has never been easier and is just about as simple as shifting your body weight to the uphill side. Keeping it up is just as easy. No more does the sled want to lay flat on the snow and the rider struggling to keep the sled tipped up.
The tMotion uses an inventive mix of features to accomplish this, including a ball joint on the rear scissor arm and split front arm that allow the skid frame to flex laterally while allowing four degrees rotation movement of the whole rear skid for easy sidehilling.
Ski No Evil Award: Pilot DS 2 Skis
We've had plenty of evil (that's kind of strong, but probably true) things to say about previous Ski-Doo skis but with the new DS 2 skis you will hear no evil from us. The DS 2 skis have a deeper keel while the back of the ski is now flat rather than tipped up like the DS. The flat back helps cure the Summit of wanting to creep up a hill when you're sidehilling. The skis are also shorter behind the spindle, which helps in countersteering. The skis are a nice complement to the tMotion Rear Suspension and FlexEdge Track.
First Responder Award: Engine Throttle Response
We must be pretty impressed with the Rotax E-Tec engine to give it two awards. Darn impressed. We already crowed about it having the most power on the snow but what's equally as impressive is its smooth-as-butter throttle response and broad powerband. The E-Tec power flat-out gets you where you want to go regardless of whether you need to blast up a mountainside or feather it through the trees.