Opinion
May 2nd, 2019
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A Day on the Alpha One and PRO-RMK 850

The snowmobile industry has some of the most rabidly loyal customers on the planet.

Some sledding enthusiasts have had their underwear colour passed down for generations.

“Paw climbed the Widow Maker with the ’71 King Kat and nothing has gone over since.”

The opinions of others are influenced by friends, dealers and stories in magazines. Meanwhile, the internet is chock full of helpful material but it can also harbour a dark side of brand allegiance, where a fouled spark plug is undeniable proof that another brand sucks.

The Apple vs Android debate is a pillow fight compared to the MMA of sled owner conviction. And the Arctic Cat Alpha One vs Polaris PRO-RMK 850 battle could easily be considered a title bout.

But the purpose of this ride was to ignore all the hype and the brochure promises—to turn sled show drooling into some actual seat time aboard these two sleds. We wanted to park the prejudices and ride like we weren’t wearing any underwear!

Arctic Cat Alpha One vs Polaris PRO-RMK 850

Modern mountain machines have become specialized weapons. Competition for market share is intense and as a result we have got what we asked for: huge power, light weight, monster tracks and telepathic sidehilling.

With thanks to Golden Snowmobile Rentals, we loaded up two of the most distilled and anticipated sleds of last year—the Arctic Cat Alpha One and the Polaris PRO-RMK 850. We were prepped and escorted by Graham Guntrip of Mountain Motorsports, who was riding a 154” Alpha that day. We knew that we wanted fresh snow, so we got up early and headed up to an unmaintained zone we will call “North Quartz”, near Golden, BC.

Alpha vs PRO-RMK 850-4
Alpha vs PRO-RMK 850-7

Alpha vs PRO-RMK 850 Test Ride

The first test would be about 15 km of whooped-out trail with about 20 cm of fresh on top. Not surprisingly, both sleds worked fine in these conditions. Any worries about the Alpha’s compliance and durability were put to rest as our fresh legs pounded the monorail like a couple of young Kirk Hibberts. The Polaris had the advantage of the shorter track for timing jumps and the new 850’s powerband launched like it was built for the RedBull straight rhythm. Neither sled bottomed-out but the fresh snow certainly helped with absorption. Along the way we noticed that both sleds could use some personalization. Super low bars might work for Dan Adams, but not these pilots.

The alpine greeted us with some overcast, but we could still pick our way just fine. We were the only ones on the untracked mountain and we proceeded to shred. The fresh powder ranged from 30-60 cm deep depending on how sheltered the area was.

It didn’t take long to understand what all the magazines mean about over-riding. Both machines require very little inputs to achieve direction changes, and numerous shithooks turned into full donuts. The Alpha needed little more than a small shift and we’d be following a new line. The huge track and punchy mid-range make for a mountain tractor experience on the Cat.

 

Alpha vs PRO-RMK 850

Images from the collection of Mountain Sledder

 

The Polaris React front suspension might cut into aftermarket A-arm sales, as it initiates a turn much easier than the pre-2019 configuration.

 

 

Our riding style is more treehugger than highmark, but we poked at some long pulls where not much was settled. The Alpha with the 3” x 3.5” pitch track moves lots of snow and climbs like a champ. The PRO-RMK with the Quickdrive 155 and 2.6” lugs has hellacious track speed; upward progress was only limited by our concern of venturing into sketchy vertical zones.

The balance of the day was spent in the trees and slow boondocking with the wrong-foot-forward. It was here that Graham’s seat time on the Alpha 154 paid dividends. While we flailed around like it was a frosty mosh pit, Graham sewed silky lines like the trees didn’t exist. There is a coordination with body position, throttle and balance that come together just like when your golf swing is crushing the ball straight down the fairway. Unfortunately, I had moments where I was in the sand trap with fogged goggles.

Alpha vs PRO-RMK 850-6
Alpha vs PRO-RMK 850-5

Alpha One vs PRO-RMK 850: Which one wins?

Both sleds respond to inputs very quickly, both get up on the snow in a hurry and both left us wanting to keep going even when the sun was almost gone. It was apparent enough that either one of these sleds will make you a better rider, and we were just scratching the surface of their capabilities during this introductory day. As we headed down the mountain, I reflected on how far our sport has come. The drainages we dropped into would have required a helicopter to come back out of with a sled from 1995.

Trying to pick a winner here isn’t realistic. Have a look at the machines available and check out the specifications—they are so close that it comes down to personal preference more than anything.

Buying a new mountain-specific sled is like finding your spouse—do some research online but there is no replacement for an actual date. Talk to your local dealer about their demo sleds next winter and get some seat time for yourself. You might just fall in love like I did!

 

– Gregg