Back To The Future

Yamaha Mountain Max

April 2020 Feature Steve Janes Web Exclusive

            The big news this spring was the re-introduction of the Yamaha Mountain Max. But to fully comprehend why this is big news, we need to take you back in time, before bringing you back to the future.

            First, the Mountain Max surfaced as an actual snowmobile in the spring of 1999 with its first model year being 2000. Sporting the trademark Yamaha colors of “Racing Blue” the Mountain Max featured a 700cc triple two-stroke engine with independent front suspension and a 141-inch deep lug track.

            However, with some revised history, we see people actually take the origin of the Mountain Max all the way back to 1994 when Yamaha unveiled its Vmax 600 ST and started phasing out the Exciter line. This sled was made for the future. It quickly earned the SnoWest All Star award as Versatility Sled for 1994.

            The Yamaha Vmax 600 ST featured a new engine assembly that introduced a high output two stroke twin with a seven-port cylinder, reed valve induction and liquid cooling. The cylinders were base-mounted to improve cooling and reduce cylinder distortion. The Vmax 600 ST offered a 136-inch mountain track. It still featured the Yamaha Telescopic Strut independent front suspension and Pro-Action Link rear suspension.

            The Vmax 600 was a lighter version of the Vmax 4—a four-stroke muscle sled that had gobs of power. But with the four-stroke power came the four-stroke frontend weight that adversely affected its terrain-handling capabilities. So the Vmax 600 stuck around for a few years to cater to the western high elevation market.

            Naturally, as all snowmobile evolutions tend to seek out more “power-to-weight” in their progression, in 1997 Yamaha bumped the power of the Vmax 600 with an all-new 700cc engine. It was a natural progression with the two-cylinder engine evolving to a three-cylinder two stroke and forsaking the strut suspension for the trailing arm independent suspension. For the next couple of years Yamaha continued to refine the Vmax 700 before the 1999 introduction of the all new Mountain Max 700.

            The Mountain Max 700 was an ideal sled for mountain riding. It highlighted a 141-inch deep lug track design for the deep western snow conditions. Its lightweight triple-cylinder engine was smooth and featured ample power for steep terrain. It had the ProAction Mountain rear suspension to complement its independent front trailing arm suspension.

            So now we have the Mountain Max name—official and a flagship model for Yamaha. However, the four-stroke Vmax 4 soon evolved to the RX-1 model line. After the 2004 model year Yamaha decided to focus its efforts on the four-strokes and abandoned its development of lightweight two-strokes.

            So after 2004, the Mountain Max name was dropped from the Yamaha lineup.

Back to the Future

            Just prior to the spring of 2016, there began to be a murmuring in the Yamaha camp that significant changes were in the works. First, Yamaha had begun to collaborate with Arctic Cat, sharing technology and some manufacturing resources. It was first noticed with Yamaha engines finding their way to Cat and Arctic Cat suspensions finding their way to Yamaha.

            Then a trademark was filed during the summer for 2018 with Yamaha reclaiming the Mountain Max name. Then, in the spring of 2020 Yamaha unveiled the Mountain Max LE 165—a Yamaha Racing Blue version of the Arctic Cat Hardcore. Now the circle has been completed.

2020 Highlights

            First comes the 794cc high performance fuel injected two-stroke engine. It looks like a Cat and sounds like a Cat. But Yamaha has put some finishing touches to make it perform like a Yamaha. It’s quick, responsive and fun to ride.  Sure there might be a little green under the blue paint … but we’ll take it.

            It’s based on a lightweight tunnel with tapered running boards to allow it mobility in deep snow. It has the Powder Claw track (which is the Arctic Cat track and known for great hookup and deep snow thrust) that allows it to explode out of the powder.

            The Mountain Single Beam Suspension (or known to the snowmobiling community as the Alpha suspension) works perfect in the powder. It’s easy to roll and holds its line well. The single rail eliminates snow build-up from the rear suspension. In other words, it doesn’t gain weight as you ride.

            Fox Zero QS3 shocks provide a smooth stable ride, even in the deep moguls found on mountain trails.

Quick Comparisons






Vmax 600 ST


Mountain Max 700

Mountain Max LE


598cc high output twin with Mikuni TM 38 carbs

698cc lightweight triple with Mikuni TM 33 carbs

794cc with electronic fuel injection


Yamaha roller clutch

Yamaha CVT



TSS (telescopic strut) front with Pro-Action Link rear


Trailing Arm front with ProAction Mountain rear

Independent Double Wishbone (A-arm) front with Mountain Single Beam rear


136-inch Mountain Master track

141-inch deep lug

165-inch Power Claw track


Metal with “ski skins” (plastic attached to the metal)


Yamaha Mountain skis

Final Thoughts

            The challenge to finding some of this information is that other than past issues of SnoWest Magazine (our archives go back to the 1970s) it’s sometimes hard to find all the subtle changes in the snowmobile models.

           Even going to Google, you end up with a lot of conflicting information that’s sometimes impossible to verify. However, we did put forth some due-diligence to find the most relevant information available.

            But with the re-introduction of the Mountain Max, we can only hope that Yamaha will take this opportunity to become an aggressive player in the western snowmobile market. In the past, Yamaha has offered some incredible product development which has greatly enhanced the quality of western snowmobiles. If they embrace this new course, the future will certainly reveal some technology-altering changes.

            So let’s go back to the future.

  • Like what you read?

    Want to know when we have important news, updates or interviews?

  • Join our newsletter today!

    Sign Up
You Might Also Be Interested In...

Send to your friends!

Welcome to Snowest!

Have a discount code on us.

Discount Code: