Let’s get this out of the way up front: The 2017 Polaris 800 Switchback Assault 144 ranks at the top when we list our favorite snowmobiles that make us feel like heroes on or off the trail. It really is fabulous.
Perhaps lost in all of the hub-bub of the new model, however, is the fact that the original 800 Switchback Assault 144 was a rather awesome snowmobile, too.
Launched in 2011 as a fi rst-of-its-kind extreme crossover, the Switchback Assault combined features from the mountain-focused RMK and trail-focused Rush, plus it had various chassis reinforcements.
The front half of the machine was straight off the Pro-Ride Rush platform with a 42.5-inch ski stance and a trail-focused IFS suspension, including Walker Evans Piggyback shocks. Up in the cockpit the rider sat on (or stood above) the Lightweight Freestyle seat and held onto a tall ProTaper aluminum handlebar with sharp downturns on its hooked ends. The bar also mounted a Cyclone master cylinder from the Polaris race sled.
Between the ankles spun a 15- by 144-by 1.352-inch Cobra track, though many spring-season buyers opted for the 2-inch accessory track. The track encompassed an uncoupled rear suspension with tipped-up rail ends and more Walker Evans Piggyback shocks, including a 16-compression clicker on the rear arm. Meaty power was provided by the Cleanfire 800 engine that was geared for quick hits of power so riders could easily pull up the skis.
This package provided decent trail handling, though it was a bit tippy if pushed hard in tight turns. Riders could also have a great time off-trail playing on laketops, in fields and in other locations with gobs of snow. For a non-mountain sled, the Switchback Assault was incredibly agile, with an easy-to-find balancing point that made tilting it on its side a great joy.
Updates were limited through the original Switchback Assault’s six-year run before its renewal in 2017. Pro-Steer skis were installed in 2013, but otherwise it repeatedly fell into the “new colors and graphics only” category. With little difference between a 2011 and 2016 800 Switchback Assault, buyers can play the age and mileage against the price to find a sweet spot where they are comfortable buying.
Derrill Code, owner of Edfield Motors in Foam Lake, Saskatchewan, said he has sold many Switchback Assaults over the past seven years.
“I always say that a Switchback Assault with that 2-inch track is pretty much the biggest thing that a flatlander should take to the mountains – anything else and he’ll just get himself in trouble,” Code said with a laugh. “It’ll work well enough for them in the mountains for what they are going to do and it will work well for them back here in the flatlands as well.”
Polaris 2009-10 Cleanfire 800 engines had some durability issues, but Code said that anything this side of 2011 proved to be more dependable. At about 3,000 miles an owner should pull the top end apart and check the pistons and cylinders for scoring.
The chassis has proven to be as strong as advertised, with no notable weak points. Eric Stengel, service manager and co-owner of Midwest Powersports in Milbank, South Dakota, called the Walker Evans shocks “the longest-lasting, least-service-needing shocks that Polaris has ever put on a snowmobile.” Code agreed on their long-lasting nature, but said the shocks’ shafts could easily rust and corrode if trailered uncovered. Thankfully, they are rebuildable.
When shopping, look for the normal signs of abuse and wear- and- tear – ovaled out suspension mounting holes, a dinged up belly pan, pounded out running boards, etc. – and get a sense of the engine and clutches’ general condition. Then get ready for a winter of raising hell.