Trail Blazers: Versatile ‘Crossover’ Snowmobiles

Plus: Best Buys in Single-Rider, Two-Rider & Deep-Snow Models

All manufacturers now make hybrid snowmobiles that are suitable for riding on or off trails, but no matter what type of model that you choose, you can expect to pay more for a snowmobile than you have before.

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Snowmobile enthusiasts can’t control how much snow that their area gets each winter, but they can find more snowmobiles that cover any type of terrain. The four major manufacturers—Arctic Cat, Polaris, Ski-Doo and Yamaha—now make 174 models of snowmobiles, which is 35 percent more than they did in 2011 (129). In addition, the latest snowmobiles are more versatile than ever before.

NEW RIDES. Crossover snowmobiles emerged during the past 3 years. Crossover snowmobiles are versatile single-rider models that have a track that’s 15–23 inches longer than what a traditional single-rider snowmobile has. This longer track allows the vehicle to stay on top of the snow when you go off the trails. Crossover snowmobiles also have a tweaked suspension, which is for more balance and speed when you’re on the trails. Crossover snowmobiles start at $7,000 and typically cost at least $500 more than does a comparable traditional single-rider snowmobile.

“They’re kind of like a crossover car; they’re more universal,” says Marlys Knutson of Polaris.

Manufacturers also developed so-called enduroventure models. The enduroventure snowmobile is a variation of the crossover snowmobile that typically includes more horsepower, more storage and plusher seats for long-distance rides. Kale Wainer of Arctic Cat tells us that we can expect more choices among crossover and enduroventure models in 2016. For 2015, 48 crossover or enduroventure snowmobiles are on the market.

Crossover snowmobiles and enduroventure models are a boon for riders who want to do different types of riding with the same model. However, we found that crossover snowmobiles are more difficult to turn through tight and twisting trails than are traditional models. Also, we found that when we ride off-trail, crossover snowmobiles aren’t capable of handling as much snow depth as a deep-snow snowmobile can.

Meanwhile, snowmobiles of all types and in all price ranges have redesigned front suspension systems that make handling smoother than it used to be. We found that almost all snowmobiles now produce less chassis vibration and are more stable over bumps and uneven terrain than ever before.

What’s bad news is that the cost of a snowmobile continues to increase as a result of additional features. Single-rider snowmobiles cost at least $400 more than did comparable models from 4 years ago. Two-rider and deep-snow models cost at least $1,200 more, and in some cases $1,750 more, than did comparable models when we last covered the segment.

CLEANER BURN. The final phase of Environmental Protection Agency’s three-phase plan to reduce engine emissions took effect in 2012. Now, all snowmobiles produce 70 percent fewer carbon dioxide and hydrocarbon emissions than snowmobiles did in 2002, EPA says. Consequently, four-stroke engines, which are cleaner than are two-stroke engines, now are common in all price ranges for Arctic Cat, Ski-Doo and Yamaha.

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Polaris remains the lone holdout. Polaris has 26 models, and all have two-stroke engines. Until 2013, Polaris had a snowmobile that had a four-stroke engine.

We found that the latest two-stroke engines—a 599-cc engine from Arctic Cat (in models starting at $10,999) and a 795-cc engine from Polaris (in models that start at $10,799)—are more fuel-efficient, lighter and more powerful than are older versions. Of course, snowmobiles that have one of these engines cost roughly $1,200 more than do snowmobiles that have older two-stroke engines and an otherwise similar chassis, features and suspension.

If price is your biggest concern, you might be interested to know that Arctic Cat and Polaris still sell a snowmobile that costs less than $7,000. These models have a two-stroke, fan-cooled engine that’s 565 cc and 544 cc, respectively. Knutson and Wainer tell us that these models will remain on the market for now, but we believe that they’ll be replaced by cleaner (and more expensive) models that have a 600-cc engine sometime in the next 3 years. In other words, soon you no longer will be able to find a snowmobile that costs less than $7,000.

Mark Boncher is the editor of American Snowmobiler magazine. He has covered the snowmobile industry for 11 years and has been riding them for 32 years.

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