Let’s pretend for a moment that you lived in a nursery rhyme world where you had 180 total children with four different women.
Including some twins that were quite similar to one another but where maybe one was just taller than the other, you had 75 kids with a lady named Skyla-Doo, 55 with another named Polara, 30 with a gal named Articia and 20 with Yolandaha. Each child had certain qualities that made them good at some things – some had functional skills, for example, while others were more creative and playful – and maybe not as good at other tasks.
Supposing of course that you could keep track of all of these rugrats and keep their names straight, how would you go about selecting your favorites out of the bunch? And, if you had to go on a worldwide adventure and could only bring 10 of them with you, how would you narrow it down?
In the real world, that’s our annual task when it comes to selecting the Top 10 snowmobiles of each given year. We start with a huge pool of snowmobiles – including 180 sleds for 2021 – and start whittling it down to the ones that perform their tasks the best.
Whether it’s for twisting down groomed trails, clawing through bottomless powder, zooming across frozen laketops, performing utilitarian tasks with ease, introducing new people to the sport, scaling mountains, providing the best bang-for-the-buck or doing other functions, these are the snowmobiles that stand above the rest, in additional to our Snowmobile of the Year.
Ski-Doo Summit X 850 Turbo 175 with Expert Package
No snowmobile has ever pushed the limits of what is possible in the mountains as far as this long, proud and incredibly powerful beast. For 2021, it comes with the first-ever factory turbocharger on a two-stroke, giving back to riders the power that would normally be lost as they carve their own paths at rising altitudes. That provides a true 160-plus horsepower to push around the sport’s longest track that encompasses the tilting tMotion skidframe. Mountain-specific features like the SHOT hot-start system, easily adjustable limiter strap, short tunnel, small seat and more help make the Expert Package upgrade well worth the cash. In the right hands, this machine is seemingly unstoppable.
Arctic Cat Blast ZR 4000/Yamaha SXVenom
Two of this year’s most impressive snowmobiles are also the smallest. The Arctic Cat Blast ZR 4000 and its Yamaha clone, the SXVenom, are unintimidating, approachable snowmobiles aimed at keeping young riders involved and inviting new people to join the sport. Narrower, lower-set and less-powerful than virtually all other adult trail sleds, they are nonetheless fun, agile and engaging. They get amazing power from a fuel-injected, liquid-cooled, single-cylinder 397cc engine that is surprisingly composed, with limited vibration. We’re guessing that sled historians may someday look back positively on these sleds for saving the sport that we all love, but you don’t have to wait to experience the enjoyable ride they provide.
Polaris 850 Indy Launch Edition 137
Polaris couldn’t have picked a better season to make a full-season version of its latest-and-greatest platform. Riders seeking the new Matryx chassis still have their chance with the available Launch Edition. It gets the expertly sculpted ergonomics, narrow new body work, premium fit-and-finish, expanded on-board storage and many of the other items that made the VR1 our 2021 Snowmobile of the Year. It doesn’t, however, carry the amazing 7S Digital Display and its multiple features, plus it has Walker Evans Force shocks above the skis. That said, it costs less, and, possibly more important, it’s available right now at well-stocked dealerships. So, if COVID-19 stopped you from ordering a Matryx sled in the spring, you can still get one.
Ski-Doo Renegade X-RS 850 E-TEC
Just when Ski-Doo riders thought it couldn’t get much better than what they were currently driving, they were given a legitimate new reason to trade up. Rumors of improved handling and better ride quality aren’t fake news – we can confirm they are fact after falling in love with MXZ and Renegade models equipped with the rMotion X and RAS X suspension geometry, plus new Pilot X skis. Previous models already had the best bump-absorbing ride; the big change comes in the way these machines hold their line into and through the corners. Add in the sport’s smoothest and most efficient big-bore engine and Ski-Doo build quality and you’ve got an easy pick for the top 10.
Yamaha Sidewinder SRX LE
A perennial pick for the Top 10, the sport’s fastest sled gets even better for 2021 with new Stryke skis that significantly improve its handling. That allows riders to confidently guide this big dog down twisting trails with ease. Hold on tight when you reach a long straightaway or laketop, though, because when the turbo starts boosting the cylinders, it provides the sort of exhilaration that is unrivaled in the sport! Close to 200 horsepower lights up the track and launches the rider into another realm. The suspension has more sit-in for added top-speed, but works well, and the Fox iQS shocks has be adjusted electronically between soft, medium and firm without leaving the driver’s seat.
Polaris 850 Switchback Assault 144
The number in the headline is not a typo – we are in fact talking about the “old” Switchback Assault here. Debunking the theory that newer is always better, for true excitement in crossover riding, the supreme balance, incredible reactiveness and ideal weight transfer of the SBA in the Axys chassis is still the most fun extreme crossover in the sport. Maybe time will prove us wrong – eventually – and a more-recently updated Backcountry, Riot X or SBA 146 in the Matryx chassis will pass it, but in our testing of spring models this was still the most entertaining and engaging machine built today, allowing it to create endless smiles from whomever is guiding its handlebar.
Ski-Doo MXZ Sport 600 EFI
BRP took a different approach when designing an entry-level snowmobile and came up with a darling of a machine. Its new fuel-injected, liquid-cooled 599cc twin runs clean and pulls strong considering its 85 horsepower claim. And, while the switches, shocks and seat have been “dumbed down” a bit to keep its MSRP in check, the sled handles amazingly well and, when in the right hands, can keep up to sleds with significantly higher horsepower on twisting trails, thanks in part to its full-width front end that provides premium stability. It’s fitted into the most modern REV Gen4 chassis and utilizes the LinQ attachment system and, best yet, its MSRP is surprisingly close to the downsized Blast/SXVenom machines.
Arctic Cat M 8000 Mountain Cat Alpha One/Yamaha Mountain Max LE 165
For deep snow days when heroic-looking moves can make you appear like a legend, a sled equipped with the Alpha One rear suspension is one fine dancing partner. Carrying the sport’s only single-beam rear suspension and a custom PowerClaw track, it prances through powder with ease thanks to a platform that makes it easy to tilt and hold on its line. It also doesn’t hold as much snow as competitive designs. The unique Fox QSL shock on the rear arm can quickly stiffen the rear end for easier climbing. New for 2021 is a Yamaha version of Arctic’s Mountain Cat, bringing Team Blue back into the legitimate mountain market with a big-power two-stroke engine.
Ski-Doo Backcountry X-RS 850 E-TEC 146
Some so-called 50/50 crossovers truly are trail machines with some off-trail capabilities; others are more-or-less just short mountain sleds. The one sled that nails a true 50-percent trail, 50-percent off-trail focus is the 146-inch Backcountry. Its trail manners are immense, with a smooth riding cMotion skid soaking up trail bumps and a decent front end allowing riders to keep up with the trail bombers on groomed paths. Off-trail, its light weight, easy maneuverability and quick-hitting engine make it a worthy companion for conditions that 50/50 buyers are likely to encounter. It’s not a MXZ or Renegade; nor is it a Summit or Freeride – it’s right in-between, which is where a 50/50 crossover is supposed to be.
Polaris 800 Titan SP 155
In the mountains or trail segments, we’re used to seeing the factories annually one-upping each other – it’s what makes the sport continue to get better. Well, after Polaris more-or-less defined the mega-utility-beast segment with its Titan lineup for 2018, Ski-Doo responded with its most extreme Expedition models for 2020, matching Polaris in virtually every area but exceeding it in one key area: noise and vibration control. Frankly, the track howl and vibration from the old Titan could drive a utility worker to drink! For 2021, Polaris answered with a new track and other upgrades that upped the game again. How will Ski-Doo answer next? We’re excited to see, but in the meantime the utility buyer is the ultimate winner. (Titan Adventure is pictured.)