We’re not talking about paradigm shifting “things” like rider-forward chassis, four-stroke engines, direct-injection fuel systems, long-travel suspension designs or other big-picture, Snowmobile of the Year-type stuff. Instead, these are minor things that didn’t make headlines over the years, but they have affected the day-to-day snowmobiling experience for millions of snowmobilers.
Push-Button Reverse – This smacked us in the head during a photo shoot a year ago with a new Polaris 600 Indy and an old Indy 500. We were on a tight trail going back-and-forth for the cameras. With the new Indy, we pushed a button, backed up and turned around. On the old Indy? We had to get off the snowmobile and drag either the back or front end of the machine around and point it in the right direction. Same with trailering. Having reverse available on most snowmobiles is a true backsaver. Sure, reverse has long been available on snowmobiles, but it wasn’t this easy or common.
Better Gear – Durable, wind- and water-proof exteriors and lighter insulations have resulted in lighter, more comfortable gear that keeps us dry, warm and comfortable. The days of dressing like the Michelin Man are in the past.
Modular Helmet – Motocross-style helmets certainly have their following, but for folks who like the feel and warmth of a full-face design, the penetration of modular helmets into the snowmobile market has made the sport better. Less fogging, more comfort, more convertibility and unique features (like pull-down sun shades) have attracted many riders in the last 15 years.
Tighter Packaging – The narrower, tighter chassis and body designs make the snowmobiles more sleek, but gaining access to the engines and related components has become more difficult. The good news? You rarely have to change sparks plugs anymore. The bad news? You can’t hardly reach them anyway! Plus, the packaging and the high-tech nature of some engine designs has made it difficult (and sometimes fruitless) to perform trailside diagnosis and repair.
Current Track Designs – Using taller lugs is easy, but the design of the lugs and the way they are shaped and patterned has significantly changed the way snowmobiles handle these days. No longer are tracks just a belt with a series of relatively straight bars. Now the lugs are intelligently designed to provide more side bite plus better acceleration and stopping ability, and the carcass of the track plays a more significant role in providing traction, too.