Each January the editors of SnoWest Magazine put on a full-court press to find which new mountain sled actually delivers on its promise for our Deep Powder Challenge. We have learned that since we rode these models the previous spring, manufacturers have made enough subtle changes that affect those snowmobiles rolling off the production line for the pending winter season.
In the spring, some manufacturers are a little farther along in finalizing their calibrations. Thus, some models tend to stand out in the spring. But it’s not until after the consumer version ships in the fall do we know what is actually going to work the best this winter.
We start to ride the new snowmobiles as early as the snow starts to stack up in the mountains. November we’re trying to get our riding legs in shape. December we’re putting on enough miles to get the new sleds beyond their “break in” period.
But come January we only focus on one thing—head-to-head comparisons in a variety of snow conditions and terrain to see what snowmobile shines brighter than the competition in the SnoWest Deep Powder Challenge.
We face several challenges each season—the biggest coming from Mother Nature. Ideally we like to have a good snow base (to protect the sleds from getting into the buried mine field of rocks and stumps) covered by as much powder as possible. That’s why we utilize the entire month with our testing … so we can pick and choose the best riding days.
We also have a challenge of a publishing deadline—we have to be done by the end of the month to hit our work window of getting the magazine put together and ready for press.
Then there’s the occasional challenge of having a sled go down for a period of time due to engine problems or physical damage (note first challenge of Nature’s mine field). If one of our test sleds falls out of commission, we either have to wait until it’s fixed or chase down an alternative sled.
Occasionally we are challenged with sleds that are not necessarily comparable. Since each manufacturer makes several versions of any particular mountain sled and multiple track lengths, one sled may be a standard version with either a 153, 154 or 155 track while the other may be the premium version with a 174 or 175 track … or anywhere in between. Suspensions can also vary giving certain sleds an advantage in hardpack conditions.
We then have to factor in the snow conditions and each particular type of test with how we grade our sleds.
Usually we have access to at least two or three snowmobiles of each manufacturer for our testing so we can see how track lengths and suspensions factor in the comparisons.
But the bottom line is spending as much time on the snowmobiles in the greatest variety of snow conditions and terrain, and then figuring out a way to do head-to-head comparisons in a measurable way.
To filter out individual bias, we try to use as many different test riders as reasonably possible throughout the process. That means hours of riding, hours of interviewing and hours of scouring through the notes—with everything boiled down to a couple thousand words in March SnoWest magazine.
Although everyone doesn’t agree with our conclusions, those involved with the process will attest that we gave every snowmobile an equal opportunity to impress us. And at the end of the day it comes down to whether one model was able to stand out above the others.
Although our job isn’t easy, it is a lot of fun. We are riding the best snowmobiles in the best terrain in the best snow conditions and calling it work. And although we take our responsibilities very seriously, it’s still hard to wipe the smiles off our faces throughout the month of January as we do our best to provide you with the facts.
Like they say … tough job but somebody has to do it.