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Flashback 20 Years: Hits & Misses On The 1997 Snowmobiles

By John Prusak

With the launch of the 2017 snowmobile models generating so much excitement this spring, it seems like a good time to flash back 20 years to review the buzz from when the 1997 new snowmobile models were released. And for that, we turn to the Season Premier/August 1996 issue of Snow Goer magazine, which covered the Rode Reports testing of the new models.

Model year 1997 was a big year. This is when Yamaha jumped into the “modern era” by dumping the pogo-stick TSS front suspension and launched the ProAction chassis with a trailing arm front end and a long travel rear, plus new 600- and 700-class triples in the sexy SX models. Polaris countered that move by launching its new American-made 700cc twin, plus the Ultra SPX triple-piped triple. Ski-Doo used 1997 to expand features it had previously introduced in models like the 1996 MX Z 583 deeper into its lineup – including moving all trail twins to the S-2000 chassis and dumping the heavy C-7 rear suspension in favor of the SC-10 in the Mach Z, Mach 1, Formula III and other machines. Due to internal industry politics at the time, Arctic Cat didn’t fully participate in the 1997 Rode Reports, but this was the year the brand launched the Batteryless EFI system, expanded use of the Extra Travel Tunnel and introduced the Torque Sensing Link on the FasTrack rear suspension.

1997 Hits & Misses

As was the tradition at Snow Goer for brands that appeared at Rode Reports we chose three “Hits” for their new model lines, and chose three “Misses” for each brand. Remember, Arctic Cat skipped the testing event that spring. So, here’s a look back at what editors chose for Hits & Misses from Polaris, Ski-Doo and Yamaha after the initial testing of the 1997 models.

EXCERPT FROM AUGUST 1996 SNOW GOER MAGAZINE:

1997 Polaris snowmobiles

Coverage of 1997 Polaris snowmobiles in the August 1996 issue of Snow Goer magazine.

1991 POLARIS HITS

Made In The U.S.A. – Polaris swung for the fences with their new 700cc twin and hit a grand slam. Manufactured in Osceola, Wisconsin, the extraordinarily torquey powerplant got dropped into the Indy 700 RMK and SKS for ’97. These two sweet sleds are the closest things to home grown we’ve seen since the Harley-Davidson and Evinrude days. Now if they’d only combine that mill with a 121-inch track… Can you say “Late Release?” We knew you could. [modern note: Polaris unveiled the late-release 1997 Indy 700 XC in December of 1996).

Less Bucks For The Bang – Polaris manages to consistently cost less than their competition in every category.

A SpEctacular Value – While we’re talking about affordable pricing we’d better mention the SE package. Say you buy a 600 XCR, Ultra SPX or a Storm. For just $150 more you can turn that into a 600 SE, SPX SE or Storm SE. You get composite skis, a high performance track and electric fuel and temperature gauges.

1997 POLARIS MISSES

Throttle This – Our sore thumbs tell us we still have to give a thumbs down to the ergos on the throttle lever.

Brake! – A long, long time ago, Polaris set the industry standard by providing the first hydraulic brake on a production machine. Well sad to say, they have now been passed. By everyone.

The Real Skinny – Although we loved the Indy 700 RMK and don’t mean to take the narrow view, we do have a bone to pick: the 5-inch skis aren’t wide enough. Polaris claims they offer excellent flotation and sidehilling. While the latter might be true (the baby climbs!), we can tell you that the former ain’t. If flotation was what they were looking for, they should have taken a cue from Yamaha. The Mountain Max machines have 7-inch wide ski skins standard, and the 2-inch difference is noticeable.

1997 Ski-Doo snowmobiles

Coverage of 1997 Ski-Doo snowmobiles in the August 1996 issue of Snow Goer magazine.

1997 SKI-DOO HITS

The Whattzit Called – Okay, so the Pneumatic Levelling Device is quite an unwieldy moniker. But hey, with a doohickey this neat, Ski-Doo can call it whatever they want. The suspension device, found on the Grand Touring SE, allows infinite adjustability without ever leaving the driver’s seat. With the flip of a switch, an onboard air compressor adjusts the suspension. That’s cool.

Vroom! Vroom! – You want power? The aptly-named Mach 1 delivers the ponies. Ski-Daddle consistently finds ways to squeeze peak power out of its roaring Rotax powerplants, and this monster machine is no exception.

Out With The Old … – The old C-7 suspension didn’t quite smooth out the bumps like Ski-Doo or its faithful would have hoped. Thankfully, the SC-10 does. For 1997, the C-7 is history and riders on all models can look forward to a plusher ride.

1997 SKI-DOO MISSES

Seeing Red – Ski-Doo was really high on their new white face gauges at the Rode Reports. They claimed that adjusting from white snow to a white gauge would be easier on the eyes. It’s not. Ski-Doo did have a couple of different [early] versions, though, so the final production model may be different and more functional yet.

Which MX Z Is It? – Last year we criticized Ski-Doo for not having a 440 fan. Now they do. While we applaud them for filling this hole in the line, we’re a little curious about why the 440 F is virtually indistinguishable graphically from the 440 racer. Ski-Doo says it’s to make boy racers feel like the real deal, but to us it’s just plain confusing.

Pull! – It takes a strong pull to get the Rotax beast going – and several of them. Now, of course, the Snow Goer staff didn’t have any trouble with them, we’re big, strong, strapping lads. This is just what we heard from some of our guest riders. Yeah, that’s it.

1997 Yamaha snowmobiles

Coverage of 1997 Yamaha snowmobiles in the August 1996 issue of Snow Goer magazine.

1997 YAMAHA HITS

Float Like A Butterfty, Sting Like A Bee – Although all of the OEMs are attempting to do the lighten up, Yamaha is certainly leading the pack. They even claim their 700 SX is lighter than one of the 440s on the market – and it’s a triple, mind you. The 700 SX is so light you can really toss it around on the trail. How light is it? Try a claimed weight of 489 pounds. Wow. It’s the first big displacement machine to be more at home on the trail than on the lake, and that’s quite a feat.

ProAction = HotAction – Where do we start? The Yamaha ProAction System is a completely new chassis that has changed what Yamaha snowmobiling is all about. The all-aluminum frame and fewer parts reduce weight, the lower center of gravity improves handling, integrated with the frame are excellent front and back suspensions … We could go on and on.

That Brake Is Catching On – Amazing. Yamaha went from having no hydraulic brake to having the best one in the business in one year: Extremely responsive without being grabby, it truly does work with one-finger action and is perfectly shaped for anyone’s left hand.

1997 YAMAHA MISSES

One Very Big Miss – Alright, where is it Yamaha? We know you’re hiding it somewhere. We searched high and low at the Rode Reports for a Yamaha 440 and came up empty. They insist they don’t want one, don’t have one on the drawing board and won’t make one. Yet at the same time they want race organizations to put new emphasis on what was a dead 600 terrain class so they can compete with the other OEMs. Sounds like they want it both ways to us. Come on, boys, get with the program. You’ve come so far, why stop now?

Do The Tighten Up – This is not a concensus miss, but some on staff felt the footwells on the new chassis were too tight.

Last But Least – Okay, we know this one borders on lame, but, frankly, it was hard to criticize the Yamahas this year. Their hand warmer switch is hard to find and even harder to change on the fly. It’s a small dial tucked directly behind the handlebars on the left side, just to give you a hint about where it’s located.

 

1997 Arctic Cat

Coverage of 1997 Arctic Cat snowmobiles in the August 1996 issue of Snow Goer magazine was limited because Arctic Cat did not show up at the Rode Reports testing event with enough units to evaluate, so they were not included in the Hits & Misses section.

 

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