How Snowmobiling Has Evolved Over The Last 16 Years

Sixteen years ago, a younger version of me was sitting with five co-workers in a dank conference room at the Snow Goer office trying to brainstorm up our annual Ten Best awards. No, this wasn’t the 10 Best Sleds list; that had already been completed. This time, we were working up various lists, from silly to serious — Top 10 Snowmobile Club Names; Top 10 Snowmobiling Rumors; Top 10 Performance Add-Ons, etc.

One interesting category to look back on now was our “Top 10 Suggestions For The Manufacturers” — things we thought the sled factories ought to do in the near future. Now, exactly 16 years later, let’s see how far the sport has come in some areas:

1. Put hydraulic brakes on all performance sleds of 500cc or more. How about ABS? — The first part of this suggestion seems nonsensical now, but 16 short years ago there were still mechanical brakes found on many sleds, including the ultra-powerful Vmax-4 800. Now, you can’t buy an adult sled without a hydraulic binder. And ABS? It hasn’t happened yet, but we know at least one brand is testing related technology.

2. The fuel capacity and gas mileage should combine to allow at least 100 miles between fill-ups — Combine the new engine technology mandated by increasingly stringent emissions standards with decent-sized fuel tanks, and virtually every sled will go 100 clicks in normal conditions.

3. Put reflective tape on all sleds, ala Ski-Doo — Side reflectors have been mandated on snowmobiles for a long time, and they have gradually been replaced with little reflective stickers/tape. But what we wanted was something akin to the long strips of reflective tape found on select Ski-Doo triples at the time — you could pick out the Ski-Doos in the distance with one sweep of your headlight.

4. Use larger/longer brake levers — Brake levers of all shapes and sizes have worked their way into the snowmobile industry, from short, kinked levers to adjustables to Cat’s new super-sized lever. The dreaded short flippers are long gone.

5. Pop for some real/quality tools that come standard with sleds — Some brands offer slightly better hand tools and provide convenient specialty tools for removing a belt or adjusting the suspension. That said, they are hardly giving you Snap-on or even Leatherman-quality with your $12,000 purchase.

6. Backrests and passenger handgrips should be standard on all 2-up sleds — This seems like an odd request now, as these features have certainly become the norm for the dual-passenger machines.

7. Floating piston gas shocks should be standard on all high-performance sleds — Shock absorbers have certainly evolved in the last 16 years. Back then, we were just wishing for base IFPs on performance specials. Now? We want clickers and dials, air chambers and remote reservoirs.

8. Larger storage compartments — While this year some sleds have brought back a bit of storage to select models, riveting on bags and/or wearing a backpack has become our norm.

9. Enough initials: Start naming your sleds again — We still long for the day when a snowmobile had a name, like a Wildcat or Formula. There are still select examples — like the Rush, Summit or Nytro — but is something like “MX Z E-TEC 800R X-RS” really a name? What a mess!

10. Build sled covers you can put on and take off while wearing gloves — Covers are still a pain in the butt (or frozen fingers, as the case may be); many folks we ride with solved this problem by utilizing enclosed trailers and skipping the cover process altogether.

The overall grade? Let’s give the factories a solid B grade because better shocks, brakes, fuel range and comfort features have made for better sleds. But I still want to see a future with selectable ABS-like brakes, constantly improving shock technology and better on-sled storage options, among other things. There’s always room for growth — starting with the soon-to-be-released 2013 models.

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