“So, what sleds do you currently own?” I asked the wet-behind-the-ears candidate who had applied for an associate editor job here at Snow Goer back in the day.
“I’ve got a ZR 580 EFI that I absolutely love, though it’s got some tunnel damage now,” he replied with enthusiasm. “It’s a really good sled – I added some SLP skis, put a clutch kit on it, studded it.”
“Great. If you get the job, I want you to sell it.”
That odd conversation is like one I’ve had with quite a few candidates for editorial jobs here, and it always takes them by surprise. “I’m going to work at a snowmobile magazine,” they think, “and they want me to get rid of my sled? That doesn’t make any sense.”
In our little world, it does. You see, every year we get demo models from each of the snowmobile manufacturers. In most cases, we hand-select a couple of models from each factory in the spring that we’d like to use for a full-season test on the snow the following winter. We usually select models that have the latest and greatest technology, or machines that fit the sort of riding or product testing we’ll be doing that winter.
Then when winter arrives, virtually every time we go riding we take different sleds from different brands. The reason is this: We want our test riders to be as familiar as possible with all of the new machines, so they can compare the advantages and disadvantages of each. Also, when the next year’s equipment comes out, we’ll be able to feel the differences that the manufacturers have made.
For example, when Polaris changed its front suspension geometry on Rush models for 2012, we were able to accurately report to you how the changes affected the machine’s handling because we had put 1,500 miles on a 2011 800 Rush Pro-R. Obviously that carries across all brands – comparing the ProCross chassis to the Twin Spar or the rMotion to the SC-5 rear suspension was possible due to the quality, extended seat time we had on previous models.
That seat time also allows us time to work with suspension settings and dial each machine to its capabilities – something that doesn’t occur to the level we may want during our spring testing. We also learn about the problems that might occur over the first couple thousand miles of any individual sled’s life – if there are service bulletins or recalls, we have to react just like any other consumer who purchased the sled. If the gauges have a quirk, the hyfax wears at an unusually high rate, the suspension linkage brakes or the engine oil leaks, we learn about them first hand, and can report back to you.
If we had a staffer who owned his own Arctic Cat, for example, and that’s all he ever wanted to ride, he wouldn’t be doing his job, and he wouldn’t be a good evaluator of equipment, because he would get too used to his own sled’s ergonomics, sound, styling and feel, and anything else would feel foreign.
Our staff demo models serve other purposes as well. Managing Editor Andy Swanson leads our product testing efforts at Snow Goer, planning and executing most of what you see in our Cold Tested department. Over the course of the winter, he leads our effort in bolting on suspension parts, adding engine components and strapping on accessories, and then tests them over an extended period.
“What sled do you own?” It’s a question we’re asked frequently at snowmobile shows. I can tell the questioner about the Kitty Cat, XCR 120 and ET 340 I got for my kids, Swanson’s two John Deeres and ’92 XCR, Associate Editor Tom Kaiser’s Enticer or Sales Director Mark Rosacker’s SnoScoots. But in terms of current sleds? We rely on the demo fleet, because it’s the best way to do our jobs and serve you as a reader.
— John Prusak, Snow Goer Editorial Director