The Worst Mountain Sleds of Our Time
Ford was bringing the future to the automotive world when it released the Edsel back in 1958. Shipbuilders gleefully proclaimed the Titanic was unsinkable. Even Coca-Cola executives thought they had a winning combination when they released “New” Coke. But when a market revolts or a product doesn’t live up to the hype (or in the Titanic case, a catastrophic failure occurs) then brand names can take a beating – whether deserving of it or not (The Edsel was actually a pretty neat car!). Like all people, snowmobile designers are not immune to making a “mistake”. At one time or another, every one of the current big four sled manufacturers has pumped out one of the worst mountain sleds of our time.
And while there are always riders who will defend any sled, the following list of machines really can’t be considered at the top of their class. Some of these sleds have developed their own cult-like following and remain popular, well-loved rides, despite this fact. Making the worst mountain sleds list does not necessarily mean these are bad sleds—remember we said “mountain” sleds. But one has to consider the class competition at the time of a model’s release. Sales of a good sled may suffer if it was released the same year that its competition knocked one out of the park. With that said, here are a batch of rides that have given new meaning of the phrase, ‘blood, sweat and tears’ to their owners. Mostly tears.
Dream Crushing – The Worst Mountain Sleds of Our Time
Here are the worst mountain sleds of our time, in no particular order.
2005 Summit Highmark 1000
How does one follow up on the success of the REV chassis, which set the mountain sled world on its ear? The 800 Summit REV and its rider-forward design changed snowmobiling forever. But with rumours of a new 900 coming from one of its main competitors (more on that later), Skidoo decided that releasing a monster SDI 1000 on the world would allow it to retain its hillclimb crown.
Yellow-blooded horsepower junkies drooled over the prospect of this new REV RT chassis, combined with the torque that a 1000cc twin would be sure to supply. The 800 Summit REV had proven itself to be light, nimble and reliable. Its new, bigger sibling would prove to be…well, none of those things.
The dry weight was claimed to be an already portly 539 pounds, but private scales showed that to be some 30lbs shy of the true mass. This was a big girl. First year growing pains and endless electronic issues kept the RT Summit from consistently running strong. Expectations were quickly lowered, leaving the Summit RT 1000 in the history books for all of the wrong reasons.
1997 Arctic Cat Powder Extreme
If you rode much in the mid-90s you undoubtedly knew what a potent weapon Cat had with its ZRT600. The near bulletproof motor made huge power for its day, and if you wanted to catch one on a lake or trail you had better bring your “A” game.
When mountain guys started putting long tracks and paddles on these “trail” sleds—creating their own backcountry missiles—the team in Thief River Falls took note. With the RMKs and Summits quickly evolving as purpose-built mountain sleds, along with the popularity of their own Powder Special series, the time was ripe for Arctic Cat to build the Powder Extreme.
The formula sounded easy: take the winning combination of the ZRT600, add a longer, deeper-lugged track and altitude compensation (HAC). Throw in some mountain specific goodies like a mountain grab bar, and you were well on your way. The hype and excitement was real and the Cat faithful couldn’t wait to get this new beast on the hill.
While Arctic Cat has always played its weight card close to the chest, one had to assume that a mountain sled would be lighter than its standard counterpart right? That turned out to be a poor assumption. The Extreme was rumored to be 15 to 20lbs less than the ZRT but when it hit the snow it was in fact heavier than its trail-oriented sibling. The result was a nearly 50lb swing from expectation to reality. Add in a “sluggish” feeling engine, most likely caused by rich jetting and the HAC system (and some questionable clutching out of the box) and the Powder Extreme was well on its way to the bottom.
Lazy or unskilled tuners were never able to wake up the performance that the ZRT was known for and the PE’s weight, combined with the wide 41” stance, ensured that this sled was not the nimble and maneuverable mountain masher that everyone hoped for. The most popular aftermarket options included a shovel and a For Sale sign.
1994 Yamaha Vmax4 750 ST
This one is sure to ruffle some feathers, but hear us out. The Vmax-4 was (is?) a very cool sled. How could a four cylinder two-stroke from the engineers at Yamaha not be fantastic? If you have never heard one scream north of 9000 rpm through a set of quad pipes, then add it to your bucket list to do so; it will change you.
When it first hit the snow, the impressive Mr. Max took home many shootout type wins and design awards as he weaseled his way into the hearts of sledders everywhere. The whole idea of two pairs of cylinders joined through a common jackshaft to the clutch was an engineering marvel in itself. Combined with Yamahas quality and finish and the Vmax-4 is truly a beautiful machine.
However, we are here to talk about mountain sleds. After two years of shortening up every lake in the country, the ST package was added to the Vmax-4 to give it some backcountry appeal. Unfortunately its 615lbs of girth needed more than a 136” track with 1 1/8” lugs to make it a real powder hound—even if that track was called “Mountain Master”.
This was also the year that saw the birth of the Skidoo Summit and expanded use of Polaris’ popular SKS (Snow King Special) moniker, so for the poor Vmax there was some pretty stiff competition in the mountains; hence the reason it has made our list. A great sled that has gone down in history, but be honest. It was awful as a factory deep snow machine.
2005 Polaris RMK 900
Times and sleds were changing quickly in the mid-2000s. The world was beginning to understand just how big an impact the REV chassis and its rider-forward design would have on snowmobiling. The expectations were high when this new mountain beast was released, marking Polaris’ first foray into an A-arm chassis for the mountains. Couple this new chassis with a monster-sized 900 twin and the Polaris faithful were almost in hysterics.
Looking back, the chassis was a good one. Solid and capable, it was tweaked into the much loved Dragon shortly after its release, which served Polaris well for years. So where does the big RMK get its less-than-stellar reputation? A little bit of everything. Some people had clutch issues, some had piston failures, some had crankshaft failures, some had heating issues, some had electrical problems. You get the idea. Think, “death by 1000 papercuts”. The recalls, updates and failures all tarnished the shine on what was close to being a great sled; only to find itself discontinued after two seasons. The RMK 900 was actually quite capable in the deep snow in its day. It just spent too many of its days back at the dealership or on the end of a towrope.
The Worst of the Best
There are others that were in the running for this list and we will be honest; it’s a pretty subjective list. But these few stand out consistently for crushing the hopes and dreams of weekend warriors everywhere—at least in stock form. Truthfully, the fact that these are the worst mountain sleds tells us how good we have had it over the years. Any one of these sleds can and does still bring smiles to the backcountry. But hey, in order for there to be winners, there unfortunately has to be losers. By the way, does anybody have a Vmax-4 for sale?