First Ride! 2020 Ski-Doo Summit Expert
Check out the video above, as Mountain Sledder Editor, Pat, talks about his impression of the new model as he rides. This 2020 Ski-Doo Summit Expert tested is the 165 model; it will also be available as a 154 inch-long tracked model.
First up, a few comments about the video. We didn’t have more than a day to ride the Summit Expert, as there are only a few of them in existence in Western Canada at the moment and they’re a hot commodity. For that same reason, scarcity dictates a prudent approach to riding. We rode some old growth trees and some open cutblock terrain in an effort to keep the sled in one piece, as specific parts from this pre-production sled are virtually impossible to come by.
The snow was great that day, but that also meant our cameras kept getting caked with snow. Such is life! We hope you appreciate our insight from riding this rare beast nonetheless.
Big thanks to Carl Kuster Mountain Park (CKMP) for having us out for the day to put some miles on the Summit Expert. It was a lot of fun to ride, in case you can’t tell from the video!
Okay, let’s dive a little deeper into our thoughts on the brand-spankin’ new Ski-Doo Summit Expert Package.
2020 Ski-Doo Summit Expert Package 165
The 2020 Summit X Expert Package is just a blast to ride. It’s very easy to ride but at the same time inspires a lot of confident to go try to push yourself. I don’t know why they called it the Expert Package exactly, but riding the thing sure makes you feel like an expert even if you aren’t. So maybe that’s the reasoning behind it. This model is definitely not just for “experts” only. It’s going to allow mountain riders of all ability levels to get deeper in the backcountry, and more easily than before.
I’ll get into more detail below, but the differences I felt between a “regular” Ski-Doo Summit Gen4 850 and the Summit Expert are quite noticeable. The sled feels very peppy and light, whether that’s from snow clearing the tunnel better or not, I’m not quite sure. There is a feeling of more power and responsiveness—again I must attribute this the shorter tunnel and the barely-there snow flap. Plus, it looks badass. Just watch out when you’re holding onto the bumper, helping to haul the sled backwards out of a hole. There’s a whole lot of 3″ paddles spinning right next to your leg!
Many of the other modifications might seem small or periphery—improvements such as shorter riser, smaller diameter handlebars, smaller seat and hand guards for example. But these all add up to make this sled more capable. Sure, the standard Summit is great out of the box, but these are mods that a lot of people would make on their own, and it’s pretty cool that Ski-Doo offers a specialized backcountry-slaying model with all the mods that many sledders are likely to do anyway.
Shortened Tunnel and Snow Flap
Many Ski-Doo riders have been removing their snow flaps for awhile now to help achieve better snow evacuation from the tunnel, and it works. The Summit 850s run pretty cool, so the snow flap isn’t entirely necessary anyway, as long as you run scratchers. Hence the manufacturer making a removable snow flap accessory. On the rare occasion that these sleds without snow flaps do heat up, it’s usually on an icy, melt-freeze trail. The simple solution is to dip into the soft stuff on the side of the trail and spin some snow up onto the heat exchanger. No big deal. The downside is that whoever is coming along behind on the trail needs to add a little distance, lest they be pelted with small, flying chunks of ice. Whatever—just deal with it!
Together with the pretty much non-existent tunnel flap and a 5″ shortened tunnel, the Summit Expert Package truly does feel like it has a little more pep in its step. I can only assume this is the result of better snow clearance. It makes sense that less snow being pushed through the tunnel would result in less resistance and more track speed overall. From riding the sled, it does feel like there is a little more power on tap, and the throttle response seems to come on very quickly.
The other—and I would argue more enjoyable—advantage of this setup is that the thing can wheelie like a champ! The 165 model I rode feels more like a 154 setup in the way it pops the skis out of the snow. It’s a very lively feeling. The wheelies feel very controllable, and you can scrub and smear the tail end around when you’re fully vertical. Super fun! On the plus side, the 165 x 3″ track still hooks up like usual, so there is no loss in ability to climb.
New Spindle and Ski Rubber
The idea behind a new spindle and ski rubber on the Ski-Doo Summit Expert Package is that it prevents the inside ski from tipping up when running into ruts, old tracks and hard bits of snow when sidehilling. When the ski tips up, it slows the momentum of the sled and can cause the track to wash out and the sled to point uphill.
Well, deep snow is always a blessing and rarely a curse. However in this case, great snow conditions made it a little difficult to assess the true performance of the new spindle and rubber. That said, I didn’t experience any of that feeling of the track washing out. It was very easy to hold a line across the slope, weight the downhill side to turn down a bit or transition some weight to the uphill side to turn up. Very easy and very controllable.
Kashima Coated HPG Plus Shocks
The Kashima coated HPG Plus shocks certainly look cool. They feature a stiffer calibration which is supposed to hold the sled higher in the range of travel, making the ride more plush. The spring is apparently lighter as well. As for how they perform? Again, with quite a bit of fresh snow to shred it was a little difficult to accurately assess the performance of the shocks, but they felt great. And I’m sure they will really shine when the snow stiffens up a bit more.
The rear track shock is a KYB Pro 36 piggyback with an Easy Adjust compression adjustment. I didn’t mess with any of the setup of the rear suspension setup. It was set “as is” from the factory, and that felt fantastic given the conditions.
The production sled will come with an easy adjustable limiter strap, but the prototype didn’t have that so I didn’t get the chance to play around with it.
The running boards have been updated for the Summit Expert, and they are now a full-length extruded profile running board. The openings are large from end-to-end, and there were no issues whatsoever with snow buildup, even underfoot and in the toe area. The conditions were pretty ripe for buildup as well, with shin-deep foot penetration of medium density fresh powder. I had basically zero buildup.
Other Key Features
There are some other key features that make the Expert Package a specialized tool for exploring the backcountry. First of all, the cockpit area has seen numerous modifications.
The riser is lower at 4.7 inches. I really like the positioning and height of it—it feels very natural. And I’m a tall guy at 6’3″ (190 cm). The low height puts you in an athletic, ready position without tiring your legs.
A smaller handlebar strap, sometimes called the mountain strap, is a great improvement. I’ve always removed these in the past as I find them obtrusive. When the sled is vertical I would find the standard mountain strap poking me in the chest at times. Not the case with the little, compact version on the Summit Expert. I wouldn’t remove this one as it doesn’t get in the way, and they do come in very handy at times when you’re trying to roll over the sled or really need some extra leverage in a tricky spot.
The Summit Expert comes with flexible handguards. I’m lukewarm on these because I personally think they are a little geeky-looking, but that’s my own hangup. I get that everything on the Summit Expert is designed with function first in mind, so I understand why they’re there.
The handguards definitely work to keep snow out of the hand control area. I didn’t have to brush snow off the grips or out of the throttle block once all day. And I’m sure they’ll be “handy” on those cold trail rides in the middle of winter.
But I think the most useful aspect of the hand guards is that they allow you to ride without running your grip heaters. The advantage is that your gloves and grips will stay more dry and tacky if you don’t run the heaters—which can cause melted snow to compromise your grip.
The final touch on the 2020 Ski-Doo Summit X Expert Package is Carl Kuster’s own 47C compact, lightweight seat. Like Carl says, “You only sit down when you’re eating lunch.” I didn’t notice it when I was riding, and that’s the point. It’s small and it doesn’t get in the way.
So that’s my initial impression from riding the Summit Expert 165. It’s a fantastic sled and if I was trying to punch my way into a new zone, I feel that the carefully considered modifications to the already capable Summit would really help me get to where I want to be—and have fun along the way.
Big thanks to Carl Kuster Mountain Park (CKMP) for getting us aboard the Summit Expert.