It’s official: We’ve chosen our Snowmobile of the Year for 2013. It was a heck of a debate, one that takes me back exactly one decade.
To say that the world of the snowmobiler changed 10 years ago might be an over-statement, but certainly the world of sled design was rocked with the 2003 model year. We realized we were in a “paradigm shift,” to borrow a popular cliché from that time, and that made naming the 2003 Snow Goer Snowmobile of the Year especially difficult.
I wasn’t the lead editor of Snow Goer at the time — I was working on other projects for this publishing firm and served as a test rider, contributor and advisor to the Snow Goer crew that year. My late, great friend Eric Skogman was the editor and led the Snowmobile of the Year discussion, in which I took part. It was a barn-burner.
Remember 2003? That was the year Polaris took its Pro X chassis from the track to the trail in its larger displacement sleds. That’s normally newsworthy, but compared to the competition, it was the ultimate yawner.
Arctic Cat launched its Firecat line for 2003. What a joyous machine, the F7 Firecat — the 698cc lay-down Suzuki was a bit of a time-bomb that first year, but it had “HOLY-CRAP!” acceleration. Plus the ultra-lightweight chassis made it fun and agile. Just about any other year the F7 Firecat would have been a Snowmobile of the Year lock, but it didn’t make it through the semi-finals. (One particular editor at the time was so mad about it that I thought he was going to quit that very day, merely out of protest.)
The F7 got pushed aside because 2003 was the year that Ski-Doo unveiled the rider-forward REV chassis and Yamaha launched the first performance four-stroke in the RX-1. The Pro X models were cool; the Firecats were outstanding fun, but the MX Z in the REV chassis and the RX-1 were clearly game-changers.
After seemingly endless debate, we selected the RX-1 as Snowmobile of the Year because it smashed all previous misconceptions about what a four-stroke snowmobile would or could be while also being the first performance-based snowmobile to take a serious run at the oncoming emissions standards. Time proved us right, kind of, because the four-stroke segment grew to almost 25 percent of the snowmobile market — talk about market impact!
But, oh, how the REV chassis also revolutionized the sport. It changed our expectations in terms of driver ergonomics, ride quality, chassis design and weight distribution. We knew after Rode Reports testing that it was a huge deal. It wasn’t until we spent a full season on the snow, however, that we truly understood how mold-breaking it was. Now, all four manufacturers have designs that somewhat mirror the original REV. Ski-Doo introducing the efficient semi-direct injection (SDI) engine the following winter meant we could select an MX Z in the REV chassis for our 2004 Snowmobile of the Year.
Now, flash forward to today. For 2013 there are no monstrous game-changers in the trail market, but even if you don’t ride the steep-and-deep, there are big things happening in the mountain sled market that bear watching. Ski-Doo’s tMotion rear suspension and FlexEdge track transform the Summit and bring fresh ideas to the market. After a protracted debate not experienced since 2003, however, we chose the Polaris 800 Pro-RMK as our Snowmobile of the Year because we feel it’s still king of the mountain segment, and we’re convinced the driveline technology it introduces will affect the entire snowmobile market, whereas the Summit’s design innovations are likely limited to the mountain market.
What will we say in 10 years when we look back upon our decision? Only time will tell, but it sure is fun when multiple innovations are introduced during the same model year.