As I am writing this article, 0 I take a look at my cup of coffee, proudly showing a moose and the inscription Yellowstone. In this nice summer morning, members of my family make fun of my cup. I agree, it may look a little kitsch in a normal setting. However, when I look at it, I see something else. It reminds me again the privilege I had to be able to buy it on the site. We were approaching the famous YellowstonePark, in the hearth of the american Rockies in Montana, where the 2012 SnowShoot was held for the second consecutive year. The snowmobiling journalists of North America and Europe get together at this annual meeting and for most snowmobilers, participating at this event is a dream come true. All the SledMagazine.com team attended the tech presentations of the 2012 line-ups offered by the 4 manufacturers. Also, we had the opportunity, in outstanding conditions, to test over 60 snowmobile models that you will see on trails this season. No, my cup is not an ordinary cup!
Once again, I realize that market rules in the snowmobile industry are very tough on the manufacturers. Competition and clientele require changes at an increasingly fast rate and manufacturers do not really get a break if they want to keep offering new concepts and attracting consumers. New chassis, new suspension, cleaner and more fuel-efficient engines are key features in this battle and also the most expensive elements in research and development. There is no other recreational vehicle that requires so much innovation and so quick, even if the number of units manufactured is rather low compared with other types of machines. Moreover, costs must be controlled because they affect the sale prices that are already at their top level considering the consumers capability to pay. You will notice that China is not among competition in our field unlike other types of vehicles (i.e. ATV)… There must be a good reason. Despite this, manufacturers keep on innovating, to our greatest pleasure. How do we classify all these innovations ? Do they obey to a precise cycle ? It is no pure science, but I have my own idea about this. I think that there are 3 types of year when manufacturers offer a new snowmobile line-up. Once again, this rule is not perfect and exceptions exist. But, applied wisely, we can observe it most of the time.
The Main Launch Year : we are talking here about a platform change, which is a major change because it will influence many other features development during the upcoming years of the manufacturer line-up. It is obvious that for its 50th anniversary in 2012, Arctic Cat is in a Main Launch Year + with the new ProCross and ProClimb chassis. Why + ? Unlike the manufacturers habits, Arctic Cat introduces a completely new mass production (many models) snowmobile. In fact, only the engines and the famous unusable reverse buttons are back.
The Innovations Year : launching new engines, new suspensions, new designs or else, new models. Again this year, Ski-Doo and Polaris live the Innovations Year. Ski-Doo presents, for example, the new rMotion suspension and the introduction of the XU chassis up to the Skandic 24. Polaris introduces what many considered impossible : the Pro-R chassis in a 136 in. edition. The Switchback line is equipped with this chassis, which brings many very interesting new models like the 600 Switchback Adventure.
The Consolidation Year : this is the year where the manufacturer can take a break and benefit from his investments. Even if it never lasts long, we must not underestimate this type of year because often, many improvements and small adjustments with huge consequences are brought to the models. So, the manufacturer offers often the best editions of models that already exist. Yamaha is currently in the Consolidation Year by improving many aspects of the models. It is obviously the best production of actual Yamaha models. For example, we see many improvements on the suspensions of the RS Vector and RS Venture models. In the same line of thoughts, the power steering presented last year is also offered on these models.
Now, it is time for my annual torment : to chose one favorite for each manufacturer. As in everyday life, making choices is often the hardest thing to do, mostly when we talk about our passion. However, I must proceed; do not worry, each manufacturer caught my attention with one specific model. As I did last years, I know how to get out of the situation by presenting my favorite along with a special mention for another model that deserves, I think, a special attention.
As I mentioned earlier, the manufacturer based in Thief River Falls, Minnesota, is in the Launch Year as he presents a snowmobile line-up that received an important weight loss. This means that the TwinSpar and M chassis have been replaced by the ProCross chassis and its mountain edition, the ProClimb chassis. Other manufacturers did it too; we are talking about 60 pounds lighter in some models. Instinctively I chose among these new models. Even if the F 1100 Turbo Sno Pro Limited deserves a special mention, my Arctic Cat favorite for 2012 is the XF 800 LXR. I think this is the perfect snowmobile for our north-eastern continent. Unlike before, the crossover snowmobiles such as the XF do not accept compromises on performance, so they become very versatile. Thanks to the new Arctic Race front suspension that eats up bumps, with its 15 X 141 X 1,25 in. Cobra track that makes it versatile and comfortable, and thanks to the 800 H.O. engine that provides 160 HP, the XF 800 LXR is definitely my choice. With its very successful Arctic Cat distinctive rebel look, this 2-stroke engine edition keeps the XF center of gravity lower than the 4-stroke engine does and it provides better handling.
Already in its third year of development, we can now fully appreciate the Pro-Ride chassis best qualities. In the Innovation Year, Polaris surprised many people with a 136 in. Pro-Ride rear suspension edition. Due to its design, it seemed hard to conceive but the Polaris engineers did adapt the concept, not only because they had to, but also for the snowmobilers benefit. In my opinion, the Pro-Ride chassis and suspension are at their best in a 136 in. version. This is why the Switchback models won me and why my 2012 Polaris favorite is the 600 Switchback Adventure. Equipped with a 15 X 136 X 1,35 in. Cobra track, the rear and front Pro-Ride suspensions tuning provides to the Adventure better stability in turns and better handling predictability than the shorter editions such as the Rush. Thanks to the proven Liberty 600 Cleanfire engine, the Adventure is a great touring sled, also due to the new larger and smoother seat that significantly improves the pilot comfort. With its touring features, this new snowmobile offers the perfect model for long ride enthusiasts. For these reasons, the 600 Switchback Advendure is my Polaris favorite for 2012. The off-trail fan in me gives a special mention once again this year to the 800 Switchback Assault 144.
Even if I situate Ski-Doo in the Innovation Year again in 2012, some models are in the Consolidation Year and benefit from the best of the last years. This shows again that this is not a perfect rule but a marker that helps us to position the manufacturer. To begin, I have to talk about my special mention that goes to the Skandic Widetrak 24 in., with the E-TEC 600 engine, on the XU platform. Even if it remains a utility sled that has been often compared with a tractor in the past, just try this Skandic on-trail as well as off-trail and you will be amazed. As I had to make a choice, I chose the MX Zx E-TEC 800 equipped with the new rMotion suspension, not because it is the new model but due to the results of our trials on this suspension. If you have already heard me or read my articles, you know about my theory that a suspension needs three years to get mature. It seems that there is an exception here; the rMotion set-up of the machine we tested last spring was exceptional for a first year of existence, and moreover in a pre-production year. Thanks to its outstanding and progressive capability in bumps, to its E-TEC 800 engine that delivers lots of power, to its impeccable design and to its proven REV-XP platform, my Ski-Doo favorite for 2012 is the MX Zx E-TEC 800, nothing else.
Continuous improvement is part of the Yamaha people genes and this is what happens in a Consolidation Year. We see a multitude of improvements that are often less obvious at first sight but in fact, they have a direct influence on the snowmobile performance. This is what Yamaha realized with one of its most popular snowmobile in the province of Québec, the RS Venture GT. With the introduction of the new power steering technology (EPS), Yamaha has lightened the riding of this great heavyweight touring machine. This technology meets very efficiently the 4-stroke engine reality, which is an average 60 lbs addition for similar models. Add the outstanding efficiency of the ProComfort CK 144 rear suspension, equipped with the HPG clicker shocks, and you will see that the RS Venture GT has become one of the most comfortable 2-up touring in bumps. The Genesis 120 engine with advanced fuel injection system delivers great performance and softness, which is an asset for this category of snowmobile. Full range of standard features is offered and the quality of materials, finishing and assembly is perfect. This is why my Yamaha favorite for 2012 goes to the RS Venture GT. I give a special mention to the RS Vector, that also benefits from the electronic power steering and from improvement of the suspension, and represents one of the most reliable snowmobile of the 120 HP category.
As you see, I hope, it is not just a cup of coffee… The image reminds me that we were there, that we had a wonderful stay and that we had the privilege to live what so many snowmobilers dream about. Even if my cruches do not only refer to theory but also to tests, many other models also deserve your attention for each one of the manufacturers, depending on your needs. I really wish that you enjoyed this article and that this will help you with your automnal reflections.