Table of Contents
Each year Snow Goer names a Snowmobile of the Year and also the Top 10 Snowmobiles. This article appeared in the November 2023 issue of the magazine.
There’s an old truism about not wanting to bring a knife to a gun fight, and we’re not about to argue that going into an Old West-style shootout unarmed is a good idea. But can you imagine cutting a steak or spreading some butter with a revolver?
Clearly, when used properly, a gun and a knife have different roles for which they are purpose-built.
So it goes with the snowmobile world. Each year, somewhere north of 150 new snowmobiles are unveiled by the five brands that sell into North America, and the vast majority are well targeted to specific subsets of the snowmobile market.
But which individual machines best serve their niches?
That’s the question we answer annually in our Snow Goer Top 10 Sleds feature. These are the machines that best serve specific snowmobilers, whether they are trail riders, speed demons, mountain climbers, crossover enthusiasts, newcomers, etc. This is separate from our 2024 Snowmobile Of The Year award winner, which is based on innovation, technology, market acceptance and more. (The Top 10 are listed in no specific order.)
Best Muscle Performance Sled
The only thing longer than this sled’s name are the legs it has when zooming across a lake. As if to say “hold my water/methanol mix and watch this” to its high-output competition, Ski-Doo didn’t just “drop” its turbocharged 850 into a trail chassis and call it good. Instead, it created a water injection system to enable longggg pulls of wide-open throttle. But it then placed the motor in a reinforced but lightweight chassis setup that’s ideal for ditchbangers, with high-end shocks plus the SHOT hot restarting system. That created a no-holds-barred trail and lake blaster with no compromises… other than the pricetag, of course.
Best Collector’s Item
Call this a nostalgia pick. Yamaha’s announcement that it would leave the snowmobile market after model year 2025 coincided with the brand creating the best looking SRX in decades. A good paint job alone, however, doesn’t warrant Top 10 status. Even with the turbocharged two-strokes now available, there’s something truly special about the way Yamaha’s high-output 998cc four-stroke triple builds power, and the way this big chassis carries that speed. Mix in electric-assist power steering, an iQS shock package and more, and you’ve got a premium model. Those features, plus its incredible throwback colors and graphics package, will make this 2024 model a true collector’s item.
Best Middleweight Performance Special
Each year when leaving our Rode Reports event, we ask our flatland riders to name the sleds on which they had the most fun. Without exception, the 650 Indy XCR has been named by multiple riders in recent years. Everything about it is quick, from the way it pivots in corners to the speed at which the power from the spry 650 twin gets through the clutches and to the track. It reacts immediately to inputs, with spot-on ergonomics that let the rider truly influence the machine. Plus, a stab on the brake handle provides a startlingly rapid lockup of the track, whether controlling its attitude in the air or setting up for a turn. The XCR is fun defined.
Ski-Doo has led the extreme crossover market in recent years by building Backcountry models highly capable both on trails and in powdery meadows. For 2024, Ski-Doo designers raised the bar even higher. It starts with a move to the REV Gen5 chassis platform, which offers improvements in the ergonomics, gauge, headlight and overall fit and finish. Also new is the cMotion X rear suspension geometry plus a rack steering system to improve the sled’s on-trail performance. But designers didn’t forget the off-trail enthusiasts: Ice scratchers are now standard, and a buyer can opt for SHOT push-button restart. Added together, these features make the Backcountry the sport’s most versatile sled.
Best Rowdy Basher
Returning for its second year in North America, the Xterrain Brutal undergoes some notable improvements. They include a move to the upgraded EasyRide+ rear suspension that has a flatter approach angle for the monster 20- by 154- by 2.4-inch PowderMax track, plus new geometry on the front arm and the rear linkage. Adjustable KYB Pro 36 EA-3 R shocks are now found on the LFS+ dual A-arm front suspension. All these moves are decent refinements, but what hasn’t changed is the Brutal’s tough-guy attitude. With its sturdy chassis, strong power from the 850 E-TEC twin and quick weight transfer, it backs down to no challenges.
Best Mountain Muscle
The defending 2023 Snowmobile of the Year certainly didn’t get any worse over the last year! In fact, we were able to spend a lot more time on both it and then the 2024 pre-production model to reiterate the excellence of this incredible mountain sled. With its tMotion XT with the rigid rear arm and PowderMax X-Light track with full-width rods, it offers a very natural and connected feel. Items like a remote-adjust limiter strap, SHOT hot restart system, belt monitoring system, flat-top dash, high intake and more prove that Ski-Doo understands the mountain market well. Throw in a reactive 180-horsepower twin, and you’ve got the very best big bore mountain sled available.
Best Mountain Middleweight
On a deep-snow day, our crew took the top 2024 mountain sleds to a challenging location. At the beginning of the ride, turbos and big bores were the primary attention getters. That night over drinks? Every single rider was talking about their incredible experience on the M 600 Alpha One! The agility and deep snow capabilities enabled by the ideally balanced Catalyst chassis blew us away. When the lightweight new chassis was mated with the unique Alpha One single beam skid and a 154-inch PowerClaw, the horsepower disadvantage of the 600 twin hardly mattered when it came to where we could go, and how big of smiles we generated getting there.
Best Full-Featured Trail Sled
Punchy power and premium features intersect at the corner of Indy and VR1 in Polarisland. Since its introduction, the high-end VR1 in the Matryx chassis has been a staff favorite no matter which powerplant propelled it down the trail. That’s due to its excellent handling, superb ergonomics and many high-end features. Items like SmartWarmer temperature control for your hands, NightBlade beams for your eyes and 7S display with Ride Command mapping for your brain combine with premium Walker Evans Velocity shocks for your back and Pro Steer skis for your shoulders. Add a quick-reacting drivetrain for your soul and you’ve got trail riding bliss.
No snowmobile dominates its market segment as overwhelmingly as the Ski-Doo MXZ Neo+. It is light, nimble, fun, reactive and rather full-featured. It also looks, feels and reacts like most modern snowmobiles. Those features alone separate it from its competition in the entry-level market. But it’s also by far the least expensive sled in a class where affordability is a major selling point. For just $7,549 (or $6,749 for the lower-output base Neo model), a customer gets a machine in a downsized REV Gen4 chassis, a fuel-injected and liquid-cooled twin-cylinder engine and an overall machine that doesn’t look, feel or ride like a discounted version of a “real” snowmobile.
Best Youth Sled
Not since the era of private-label department stores brands (we remember you, JC Penney/Montgomery Ward/Sears, etc. sleds!) have three separate companies shared a single machine platform. But that’s not why this spry little machine – built by Arctic Cat using a Yamaha engine – cracks the Top 10. Instead, it’s the way it serves its audience. Many families now skip less capable 120s and put their 4- or 5-year-old on a 200 using a throttle stop. But the kids (and even adults) can ride these sleds for a decade or more. With its “real” chassis, suspension, driveline, track, etc., it can be made trail legal as the kids age or amateur riders get more confident.