Picture yourself preparing to set out on a high-mile, multi-day, point-to-point snowmobile excursion — the perfect trip. Trail maps are spread out before you while planning the route, and you’re sure about a few things: You will be covering a lot of terrain, may need to occasionally venture off-trail, want to be warm and comfortable, must be prepared for possible mechanical hiccups and, most importantly, need to carry all necessary supplies. You’ve got everything but the perfect sled.
Sporty touring machines — those designed for long trips with extra storage and creature comforts — are popular in the motorcycle world, but snowmobilers have been left to strap on a backpack and stuff tools, spare clothes and snacks into whatever storage space their machine came with (typically slim to none), or drive dull 2-up machines in age-old chassis. With so many riders looking to rack up as many miles as possible on precious winter weekends, one might think modern sport touring models would be widespread. They’re not.
Compromises be damned! With the introduction of the sporty Polaris 600 Switchback Adventure and Arctic Cat XF 1100 CrossTour, long-distance tourists can choose from two tailor-made trail (not utility) machines that improve rider comfort, add valuable storage and look pretty cool.
Now in its second year on the market, the 2013 Polaris 600 Switchback Adventure starts at $11,199, $800 more than a base 600 Switchback, both of which come with a tunnel that’s 7 inches longer than a Rush. For the extra cash, Adventurers get all the trail-sled performance, but added wind protection, storage and rider comfort.
Based on the much-loved and continuously improved Pro-Ride chassis, the Switchback Adventure is inherently designed for on-trail performance, with a minor in big-bump absorption. It’s powered by the 600 Liberty two-stroke.
The most visually notable upgrades are the taller windshield, small aluminum rear rack and a pair of high-quality Lock & Ride saddlebags with inner dry bags that allow a generous 2,000 cubic inches of storage space, which is more than enough room for all the essentials needed for a long, point-to-point journey, short of a sleeping bag and firewood.
Other goodies include standard electric start, a chunkier 15- by 136- by 1.352-inch Cobra track, integrated tunnel protection for adding studs, power outlet for a heated shield, comfortable seat, two 12-volt outlets to power GPS units or phone chargers and added side-panel wind deflectors. New for 2013, the Switchback Adventure now also comes with the “extreme front bumper,” Pro-Steer skis for reduced steering effort, a one-piece handlebar that allows for heated hooks, adjustable right-hand controls and an updated exhaust silencer.
With the Pro-Ride rear suspension using Fox (IFP) shocks front and rear, aggressive front clip borrowed from the Rush, modern color options and the added bulk from the added accessories, the Switchback Adventure looks purpose-built for snowmobilers who value comfort, convenience and marathon-long trail rides over other sleds that may look sportier, weigh less or go slightly faster.
Polaris 600 Switchback Adventure / $11,199
Claimed dry weight: 520 pounds Engine: 599cc liquid-cooled twin, Cleanfire Injection, bore/stroke 77.25×64 mm Track: 15x136x1.35 Cobra
Enter The Cat
Totally new for 2013, Arctic Cat’s XF 1100 CrossTour is aimed at the same rugged riders as the Adventure. Starting at $11,699, it’s built on the same ProCross chassis that won the 2012 Snow Goer Snowmobile of the Year award. It’s a modern setup that feels lighter and more athletic than the old Twin Spar, which still houses Cat’s other touring and utility sleds.
Dressed in angular orange-and-white-over-black graphics with its added touring kit, the CrossTour also looks custom and cool — one of the better looking next-gen Cats, we think.
There are no protruding saddlebags like the Polaris, but Arctic Cat’s engineers took a similar approach with their touring rig. A tunnel-mounted cargo rack, a compact, semi-rigid storage bag behind the seat and a conveniently-placed zippered handlebar bag grant enough additional cargo space to live off the machine for a few days, but you’ll want to strap a cooler or duffle bag to the rear rack to match the Adventure’s ability to carry larger items, like shoes or full change of clothes.
Standard items include the aforementioned storage, electric start, front and rear bumpers, side mirrors, a 15.25-inch windshield, heated seat and a 15- by 141- by 1.25-inch Cobra track. Arctic Cat has wisely offered an even taller 19-inch windshield, narrow windshield bag that surrounds the gauges, 2-up seat (which was in place during our test) and a goggle holder for the heated space directly in front of the rider as options. With everything bolted and strapped on, the XF 1100 CrossTour looks ready to negotiate the tundra.
Key hardware bits include the FasTrack slide-action rear suspension with adjustable torsion springs and Fox (IFP) shocks, the Arctic Race front suspension and the non-turbocharged 1100 four-stroke engine that puts out 120-class horsepower.
Arctic Cat XF 1100 CrossTour / $11,699
Claimed dry weight: N/A Engine: 1056cc liquid-cooled twin, four-stroke, throttle body EFI, bore/stroke 98x70mm Track: 15x141x1.25 Cobra
Heading For The Hills
Within the confines of our annual weeklong snowmobile testing/fantasy camp event out west, we were unable to set out on the trails and return days later. Instead, we packed up everything a group of fastidious journalists and photographers need for a day spent riding: cameras, notebooks, spare goggles, extra gloves, spare headsocks, mid-layers of insulation/jacket liners, baseball caps, water bottles, energy bars, trail mix, beef jerky, turkey jerky and bison jerky — you know, the essentials. All told, we did a fine job using the available storage on both machines, proving that if the space is there, riders will bring enough junk to fill most every nook and cranny.
Leaving town, we pointed our snowmobiles west toward a region of infinite riding possibilities — tall mountains and spread-out valleys, groomed trails and tight deer paths among the trees, and legal places to ride off the trail in every direction. We weren’t heading out for days on end, but this variety was the ideal proving ground for snowmobiles focused on versatility.
Tucked in behind the bars, the 600 Switchback Adventure feels like a standard Switchback or Rush, but there’s something about that taller windshield, and dual saddlebags that make it feel like something special — a snowmobile designed to be self-sufficient in the great unknown. This is an athlete dressed in cargo pants cinched up by a tool belt.
Seated on the XF 1100 CrossTour, one thought comes to mind: This is a big snowmobile. It doesn’t appear obese like a Twin Spar-based machine, but its mirrors and taller windshield and 10 inches of extra length over the Adventure make it feel more like a 2-up or utility sled wearing racy plastics and graphics. It’s no Bearcat, but the CrossTour feels substantial and plush, which bodes well for multiple days spent on trails of varying conditions. And, who would turn down a heated seat?
Looks aside, we found a lot to like in both touring sleds, with some very noticeable differences that make it easy for interested consumers to pick their poison.
Cross-Examining The CrossTour
Supremely roomy with a comfortable seating position and feather-light steering, the Arctic Cat is the old-school Cadillac of this duo. Its big, 1056cc, twin-cylinder four-stroke has enough horsepower and torque to get the sled moving, even at elevation, yet it’s lacking two critical qualities for performance-biased riders: character and a sense of urgency.
Whereas world-class 600 two-strokes like the Polaris Liberty 600 or Ski-Doo 600 E-TEC emit a muscular exhaust note and provide instant power at the slightest blip of the throttle, Cat’s 1100 four-stroke has a non-thrilling, droning sound that matches its gradual power delivery. Because it lacks the immediacy of a two-stroke or turbocharged four, our testers worked to maintain momentum through the corners, rather than scrubbing speed with the brakes. It’s enough power for a machine of this size, but doesn’t deliver the excitement of a two-stroke no matter what the dynamometer may claim.
Handling and steering have been lauded on the ProCross/Climb chassis since their debut. Even on this heavier model, the skis stay remarkably planted through choppy turns and steering effort is light enough that one tester said the CrossTour felt like it had electric power steering. It doesn’t, of course, but those looking to take it easy will enjoy the light steering. Hard chargers may prefer more feedback through the bars.
All testers agreed it drove like a 2-up, which isn’t a bad thing, as Cat’s been building the most comfortable, long-distance 2-ups for years, best exemplified by the Bearcat.
“On trails, she’s a cruising machine with a plush suspension, huge windshield (still a lot of wind to the head) and a somewhat boring powerband, but that might be fine for this customer,” read John Prusak’s notes. “It definitely feels more utilitarian than the Switchback Adventure.”
Prusak enjoyed the large, usable side mirrors, its rugged appearance that provides a feeling of invincibility and the optional 2-up seat installed on our tester that felt like a quality piece. While it didn’t have a wider track, he felt like he was riding something with a broader track that was stable, but not eager to carve through the powder. Its less nimble feel, compared with other next-gen Cats, dampened some of the fun when riding off-trail.
Bounding off the main trail onto a shorter path through the trees and into a play meadow, the XF 1100 CrossTour showed its true stripes, and was a blast to ride, even though it’s a big rig.
“What a fun, well-rounded machine,” read your author’s notes. “It feels really big, but not unwieldy like a Twin Spar. This sled is comfortable to ride, has predictable skis, looks sharp and is one of my favorite Arctic Cats on the new chassis.”
Analyzing The Adventure
Contrasting the large, indestructible character of the CrossTour, the Polaris 600 Switchback Adventure looks fast and furious — equal parts luxury and performance, just as advertised. There’s something about those saddlebags and its muted styling that make it appear ready to cover vast sections of terrain at speed.
The Adventure is motivated by the familiar twin-cylinder, 599cc two-stroke with Cleanfire EFI. It’s not as clean or refined as an equivalent E-TEC, but this is one of the finer engines in any snowmobile. Power delivery is right-now fast with a flick of the right thumb, and its slightly raw sound matches its macho personality.
Whether you’re winding through the woods and need to lift the front-end over a log, or blipping the throttle to get a boost over a high-speed riser, two-strokes are inherently more entertaining than non-turbo four-strokes, no matter if they put out similar numbers. For the touring customer, however? Some might want to avoid the louder, higher-revving oil burner.
When it comes to steering and handling, the Adventure is a real charmer, as its added length over a Rush pays off in a more relaxed ride that’s not as prone to throttle-induced weight transferring. Ski pressure seems to be the tradeoff, as the skis lacked bite causing the sled to under-steer in certain situations. Still, the Polaris was fun on the trail, and more capable than the larger Arctic Cat in the powder-filled meadows we explored.
“With the big bulky bags, long seat and general setup, the Adventure will never be confused with a regular Switchback, but it gets around off trail,” said Prusak. “I like the wider seat, and this sled has the sportier moves of these two.”
The copious storage items were appreciated for their ease of access, quality construction and the water-resistant inner liner of the saddlebags, which kept our cameras, snacks and notebooks perfectly dry, even after extended off-trail playing.
“This is the perfect package for a high-mile rider,” read another tester’s notes. “I think the Adventure is for the sledder who cares about comfort and convenience on the trail, instead of his/her image, and without sacrificing performance — the only thing I would add is a spare gas tank on the rear rack.”
Some of our test riders were confused about this sled’s naming, wondering why it wouldn’t be called the Rush Adventure, or just Adventure? And, perhaps it was from riding the lighter-steering Arctic Cat in direct comparison, but this seems like the ideal model for Polaris to debut electric power steering that we suspect is in the pipeline.
For as long as we can remember, it seems the “coolest” snowmobiles have always been the racer-specials — bright graphics, faux sponsor stickers, G-string-grade windshields, upgraded shocks, minimal creature comforts, maybe even a racing number. Indeed, they look racy, but isn’t the true cool rider the one who rides the longest, stays comfortable for hundreds of miles at a clip and has a sled perfectly outfitted for his or her needs? We think so. In our eyes, these specialized distance-performance cruisers, with all their luxuries and abundant storage, are for the snowmobilers riding for their own pleasure, rather than trying to look like the fastest person on the snow.
Both the Arctic Cat XF 1100 CrossTour and Polaris’ 600 Switchback Adventure fill a long-needed niche in the snowmobile market — the rugged individualists — and are perfectly set up for long-distance cruising. It made us wonder why Ski-Doo doesn’t re-skin its awesome-but-slow-selling GSX into a CrossTour/Adventure competitor. All it would need is a dash of outdoorsy ruggedness to complement its already-high-end features.
In trying to decide which model we’d buy, we stopped on the trail and pictured ourselves getting ready to cross the entire Upper Peninsula of Michigan, a very desolate, fantastic place to ride. The way we see it, the CrossTour is for riders looking to cruise in comfort, with a dash of Arctic Cat style. If you’re a hard-charger wanting to ride hard on a slightly smaller machine, and prefer the instantaneous power from a two-stroke, then the Adventure will win you over — it certainly won our vote.