It’s cool that Ski-Doo came out with a revised platform for 2013. We say this not only because new stuff is fun and typically better than what it replaces, but because it’s getting tough to come up with interesting things to say about the “old” REV-XP snowmobiles that have been ruling the trails for the past five-plus years.
Again last winter, our demo fleet included a two-stroke Ski-Doo crossover model — a 2012 Renegade Backcountry X E-TEC 800R — but different than those other sleds we’ve long-term tested for a full season, this one was better equipped for off-trail excursions, and that meant it appealed to a narrower scope of riders.
We always enjoy the versatility of Ski-Doo crossovers because they’re generally excellent on the Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan trails where we ride, and they’re quite capable to play around in the deep snow that can also be found in the Midwestern backcountry and when we take them west for late-winter vacations. This one’s E-TEC 800R engine was strong, its light steering was appreciated, ergonomics were familiar and comfortable, and the new-for-2012 on-board storage in the seat was convenient for trail maps or extra gloves.
Compared to a Renegade X, the Renegade Backcountry X has deeper track lugs and lower gearing: a Camoplast Charger with 1.5-inch lugs and a 23-tooth top gear instead of a 25-tooth. Two fewer teeth on the top sprocket in the chaincase improves low-end grunt to help the sled pop out of deep snow.
The Charger track is a great track for more-serious crossover sledders who log miles on marked trails, but want more backcountry ability than a 1.25-inch lug provides. Its lugs shovel more snow when playing in a swamp or cutting a path through the woods, but it’s not so terribly aggressive that it will blow the snow off of groomed trails, cause excess slider wear or make the engine overheat. Charger lugs are a block pattern with squared edges to help prevent the rear end from washing out through high-speed turns, but that is balanced out with the corner of each outer-row lug cut at an angle to allow some side slip and help reduce inside ski lift.
Another off-trail feature of the Backcountry X package is the Pilot DS — Deep Snow — skis. Unlike the dual keel skis on Renegade X, the DS have only one keel, and the skis are about 1 inch wider for better flotation.
By mid-season when the snow pack wasn’t piling up and it seemed likely this sled would stay confined to the trail, we decided to take action to make it a better trail burner by installing a set of 6-inch carbides and widening the ski stance by adjusting the spacers on the skis. Snow Goer staffers felt that this made it a good trail sled, but some friends who ride only short-track sleds said they weren’t confident in the machine because it didn’t carve quickly enough when they turned the bars. They waited until the sled was all the way through the turn and pointed in the right direction before hitting the gas again — a point-and-shoot driving style.
The point where a driver can get back on the throttle while driving a Backcountry X is deeper into the turn than it is for a Renegade X, and this realization circles back to the track and gearing. Its aggressive lugs continue to chomp forward for a split second after the driver lets off of the throttle, and the added torque from the smaller sprocket makes the machine launch harder when the driver gets back on the gas at the apex of a turn and pull weight off the skis for less control.
While snow cover east of the Rocky Mountains last winter was scarce to non-existent, parts of the west, including a location in Montana to where we toted our Backcountry X, were walloped with snow later in the season. The machine worked well poaching behind our group’s RMKs and Summits and goofing around in the meadows. No, we couldn’t always break our own trail through the deep snow or high-mark on a slope, but we were able to share in the fun by riding with the group and exploring the backcountry.