By Mark Boncher
Just go man!
No not like Loyd in the movie Dumb and Dumber, but if you just want to get out there, the sleds we examine here are the right ‘tools’. If you are looking to ride trails all day long, or want to boondock through the trees and powder for 8 hours straight, then you need a 146-inch long sled with some big muscle under the hood. The Polaris 850 Switchback Matryx Assault, the Ski-Doo Backcountry X 850, the Arctic Cat Riot, and the Yamaha X-TX SE 146 are the 4 sleds you should be looking at.
It is interesting to see that this group of sleds now makes up much of the ‘meat’ of the snowmobile market. It is not surprising though as more people want more out of their sleds. More capability to go where they want, more power, more options, more adjustability, and ultimately to make their riding experience more versatile. If you’re spending $15-$20K on a machine I would want that too!
Switchback freakin’ fun!
You cannot help yourself on this sled, you just gotta hit the powder, then stand up a wheelie across 10 moguls on the trail! The Switchback has a legendary name for fun and the new 2022 in the Matryx chassis takes it to another level. The power-to-weight ratio on this sled is something we’ve discussed for years and the lack of rolling resistance makes this sled, skid, motor combo one of the fastest over-all sleds on the trail, lake, or anywhere. Even with a 2.0 -inch lugged crossover track (fully clipped) this sled works as a cross-country racer, easy trail rider, or off-trail powder hound. The IGX rear skid is amazingly good on the trail with a tipped up rail profile that allows maximum traction off-trail and a smaller footprint for maneuverability and exciting transfer on trail. The 165 horses from the Patriot 2-stroke twin liquid cooled Cleanfire motor put the power straight to the snow.
At only 476 pounds dry you get a lightweight aluminum and carbon fiber chassis that is strong and durable, but also easy to flick around in the air, through moguls, in the deep snow, and anywhere else. Helping to tame the corners, big bumps, and soft landings is the Matryx Independent Front Suspension with WER coil-over adjustable shocks that have a big 2-inch diameter. Shocks in the IGX rear suspension include a similar WER Velocity shock in the in the rear and a WER 2-inch diameter C/A shock in the front of the skid.
It is important to note that this sled was available with 4 track options from a Cobra 1.352-inch, to a Cobra 1.6-inch, to an Ice Cobra 1.6-inch, and finally the 2.0-inch Crossover. Honestly, if you ride more trails I would go with the 1.352-inch and use conventional studs, or go straight for the 2.0-inch with no studs if you do more off-trail. If I were Polaris I would have offered only a 1.5-inch in between with pre-marked holes for conventional studs. But that’s being pretty picky!
The new Smartwarmers on the handlebars are standard on this sled too… along with a lot of other cool features. But as a guy who has had issues with frostbite on my hands, having these new warmers that stay at the desired warmth is fantastic. Might be one of the best new things to come out for my personal riding enjoyment in a while. All the gadgets and fancy gauges are great, but at the end of the day if you are cold and miserable, or too hot and miserable, it is not enjoyable.
We’ve spoken numerous times on the ergonomics of the Matryx sleds being narrow, and easy to move around on, with greater mobility in multiple applications. The Assault is no different. However, being a crossover sled I find this to be even more important. I know many people in Northern provinces, and states like Maine, Minnesota, and more who use Assaults as their ‘everything’ sled. They use it for performance riding, utility work, family days, and more. Being able to move around with a kid onboard, or getting on and off to pull an ice-fishing sleigh, or even getting friends unstuck, are bonuses not often talked about. Plus being less tired at the end of the day because you did not have to work as hard while you were riding makes life just easier.
From a rider’s standpoint 3 things really stand out when you spend a day on the Assault. One, the 850 motor is super snappy and every bit as strong as Polaris claims… which is not always the case with OEMs. Two, it is much better on the trail in big bumps than the previous chassis… you no longer get have issues in oddly spaced bumps where your rear bumper wants to pass you. Three, it is extremely capable off-trail in deep snow and beefy enough to take jumps, drops, or whatever you throw at it.
Backcountry is the correct moniker
If you are looking to name sleds the right way, then look no further than the Backcountry line of sleds. These do exactly what is promised and allow you to access areas that trail sleds just do not do well in. Ski-Doo’s Backcountry X 850 is one of my personal favorite sleds on the market. As a spring-buy sled there was the option of a Cobra 15” x 146” x 1.6”, Ice Cobra 15” x 146” x 1.6”, or Powdermax 16” x 146” x 2.0” track. I would personally choose the wider 16-inch wide and deeper lugged 2.0 Powdermax. This track is amazing and I’ve spent time on numerous occasions riding this sled through steep and deep powder in the Rocky mountains and it is an over-achiever. The 2.0 lug is also just fine for running trails, especially with the ski stance adjusted to the wider setting. You’ll enjoy a truly 50/50 crossover without giving up much of anything on or off trail.
With a 7-8 percent larger footprint and 20 percent deeper lugs you can instantly feel the increased off-trail ability of this track. Narrow up the front end from the wider 40.2 inches to the narrower 38.4 inches and you’ve got yourself a very easy to sidehill little mountain sled with lots of track-speed. Pulling wheelies and popping off pillow top powder jumps is a blast with the shorter 146-inch length of this sled off-trail.
New for 2022 is the addition of two LinQ base mounting kits for the Backcountry X 850 coming standard. These kits are absolutely necessary for the putting on any of the massive array of accessories from hard/soft storage bag kits to gas caddies and more. You also had an option of the new Scandinavian Blue and orange crush color-way or an all-black version.
Winning in the power-to-weight ratio has also always been a staple of the backcountry sleds, and the X model is no different. Tipping the scales at 462 pounds dry weight this is one of the lightest and best balanced crossover sleds on the market. You get all the benefits of push-button start, reverse, and Ski-Doo still has the only direct-injected 2-stroke sleds on the market which translates to better than average fuel and oil economy, no smoke, easy throttle pulls, and a very quiet ride.
The transmission on the Backcountry is also smooth and utilizes a pDrive primary and QRS secondary clutch. There is the newer venting system on this sled as well to cut down on heat buildup in that area and extends belt life. There were issues a while back with belt heat on the 850’s, especially in off-trail and mountain applications, but that was addressed by the engineers at Ski-Doo quickly and has been for the most part well resolved. This is a standard 2.86 pitch on the track drivers as well so if you want to change tracks out for something else you will have plenty of options.
Up front is the Ras3 suspension that has 8.7 inches of travel and HPG Plus shocks. There is the very durable and high performing cMotion rear suspension. The cMotion is still one of the best crossover skids in the industry and with a KYB Pro 36 easy-adjust rear shock you’ve got plenty of adjustability too. Travel in the back is 9.4 inches.
Other than a few upgrades, this Gen4 chassis sled is basically unchanged for 2022 and still has the venerable DS2 skis, trail performance seat, and still has the optional SHOT starting system available if you want to save a few pounds as well. If it were me I would order this with the SHOT every time.
Riot is a party on the snow
A sled that can supply a ripping good time anywhere, and at any time, the Riot is like constantly having your own personal party on skis. We were able to get our hands on one of these for an extended period of time at the end of last season and will have it again as a demo unit for this season. Needless to say, we are loving the new ATAC adjustable on-the-fly suspension package! Soft setting for easy trail cruising, medium for all around terrain, and firm for the days that the moguls seem to be never ending and you just want to bang through them as fast as you can.
Literally this sled is a beast that can handle whatever you can dish out. The Fox Zero iQS shocks in the front ARS II suspension, and in the rear shock of the uncoupled Cross-Action 3-wheel rear suspension gives you all the capability of a snow cross racer and the luxury of an all-day touring sled. With 9-inches of travel in front and 13.5 in back of this sled plus other shock options gives you the ability to build this sled to handle the terrain however you would like. The 15” x 146” x 1.35” inch track is a little on the small size for super deep off-trail riding, but it does the job and is one of the most durable crossover tracks available.
One thing we like about this Cat is the optional accessories including the Pro Mountain front bumper. We feel like this is more like a necessity as the way this chassis is designed, the front is fairly exposed and this bumper is really heavy duty to take on any stump, branches, or other concealed things you may hit while exploring. Speaking of reinforcements, you’ll get trussed up running boards standard on the Riot for those hard landings off jumps, or the unexpected g-out mogul in the trail that you stand up for at the last second.
Power is transferred through the ADAPT system. This CVT is better than previous designs at keeping constant belt tension and adjusts to allow for better belt wear and decreases heat in the clutch area as well. The result is a smooth power delivery that diminishes the hard engagement that often happens with big twin 2-stroke sleds like this one. The 8000 CTEC2 motor is certainly one of the veteran motors in this group, but creates plenty of ponies to keep up with almost any 850.
We also enjoy the adjustable ski stance on the Riot which goes from 41.5 to 43.5 inches. It really helps to narrow this sled up when riding off-trail and it makes gliding through trees or picking your way through obstacles much easier. Combine that with the G2 Mountain ski and you’ve got the option of either an aggressive trail front end, or a narrower off-trail front-end.
It would be very easy for us to put the Riot X in onto this battlefield as well, but certain aspects of that sled make it more of a mountain sled than a crossover 50/50 sled. Most namely the Alpha monorail rear suspension which is truly aimed at deep snow riding and is not a trail or crossover skid. In addition, the 2.6 inch Powerclaw track is much more of a mountain track than a trail track. Finally items like the AMS mountain front end and narrower 39.5 to 41.5 inch adjustable ski stance is made for off-trail maneuvers mostly, not hitting stutter bumps in the trail at pace. We thought it important to note these differences, and it is certainly not a discount to the X or any other sled as we love ‘riot-ing’ with it all over the outback.
Yamaha wins the pony race
It’s the most repeated record skip in the industry, but the Yamaha XTX-SE 146 still has the most power under the hood of any sled on the 146-inch battleground. We had the 2021 version of this sled as a demo all last winter so we know it very well, and it is mostly unchanged for 2022.
Three things we really enjoy about this sled are the skis, the narrow front end, and the track. The Yamaha mountain skis are wide, keel is deep, and they float on the snow very well. More importantly, they are predictable, which is necessary to make deep snow maneuvers on a big powered 4-stroke sled that is heavier than the comparable 2-strokes. Weight is always an issue when off-trail, but the turbo EFI 3-cylinder Yamaha powerplant creates 200+ horsepower so if you are looking at ‘power-to-weight’ then this sled actually compares quite nicely.
The narrow front end at 40-inches gives you a lot more agility when picking through the trees in the backcountry. Plus you do not really give up much in the way of trail performance. The deep keel on the mountain ski really allows you to rail around the trail turns. You may have to use a little more body English if you are a smaller rider, but one of our women test riders easily piloted this sled down the trails a lot last winter and she is a buck-ten and only 5’1” tall… so if she is comfortable keeping up with the fast riders in the pack then I don’t want to hear excuses/complaints from anyone else!
The 2-inch Camso Challenger track that rolls around the Versattack 146-inch rear suspension is also a game changer. It is a perfect on/off trail track and again, with the power generated from the turbo motor track-speed is just incredible! One off-trail hill-climb attempt in particular called for me to pull a wheelie across a snowed-over creek, then follow a 165-inch mountain sled straight up a technical hillclimb, in 2-3 feet of powder. The XTX-SE created so much track speed that it easily made the climb and after a couple more times up and down, actually made a path for the rest of the true 155-inch mountain sleds to come up.
The Fox QS3 1.5 shocks up front do the job and easily adjusted, whereas the larger 2.0 inch Fox Zero QS3 shock in the rear of the skid is built to take hard hits and smooth out the big trail bumps too. The uncoupled skid transfers well off-trail and there is a tapered more mountain targeted tunnel above it. Other endearing factors on the XTX-SE include a mountain seat for more rider mobility and of course the push button start and reverse option. The taller steering post and 5.5-inch riser with mountain grab bar are also off-trail attributes that make your day easier.
We have no problem putting this sled up against any other 50/50 crossover on the market… because we’ve done it!
One Rider’s choice
I’m just one of many thousands of riders out there that put time in on all kinds of crossover sleds. But for my money, out of all of these, I would be looking at getting a new Assault if I had the coin. After that it becomes more of a ‘what type of rider’ discussion, but the Assault fits the bill for just about anyone. For the record, none of the OEM’s pay us poor lowly test riders… but we are still almost always smiling under our helmets!
Backcountry X 146
If you like crossovers, then all I can say is the BCX sled is a must for your garage this season. When talking about the “Crossover” snowmobiles in the industry, we stamp these respective machines as 50/50, 80/20 and so on. My take on the Backcountry X is it’s a 90/70 sled! Yes, that doesn’t add up to 100%, but this sled isn’t a crossover that you are compromising one thing for another. Its 90% as good as any other trail specific sled and can do 70% of any off-trail riding.
With the X-package you also get a thousand dollars of other great options that does not come included with the standard Backcountry for only a few hundred dollars more… this is a great deal. I would choose the 16” wide track which gives you more footprint on the snow then a 15” x 154” mountain sled… but is stiff and durable for trail use and will never curl over on itself like some mountain tracks on hard pack or trails.
850 Switchback Matryx Assault
If you are looking for one of the easiest sleds to ride on and off the trail, the Matryx Assault is on the top of my list. All the Matryx chassis sleds are even easier to ride then the coveted AXYS platform. Riding this sled off trail you feel like a professional. It is extremely predictable to get on edge and requires little effort to get there. I love the narrow profile of the chassis for stand-up riding and you always seem to be in the exact correct position when moving from sitting to standing. My only suggestion would have been to give it a slightly narrower ski stance or an adjustable setting to fine tune it to each specific day.
On the trail she is well behaved, and you will have no problem keeping up with the group due to razor-like precision handling and the big power the 850 motor puts out. With the tipped up rails you don’t really feel any difference between a Polaris 137” track to this 146” on the trails, so why would you ever buy a shorter tracked sled if that was the case! I think Polaris folks know this well considering the expansion of the XC 146 line this year. So you can count on seeing a lot of Polaris 146” sleds ripping the trails this winter.
We were given this sled for the last few months of the 2021 season, so I was able to spend a lot more time on it than we typically get on most others for review. Being honest, I really was hoping to see a new kitty chassis for 2022 so I may have started my opinion about this sled somewhat negative. But I was able to take it to some great places with all different types of conditions and really dial in to my comfort level. It’s certainly not quite as easy roll into a powder turn like some of the other crossover sleds in the market but it’s more than capable to follow your group in the deep.
Where I found it to really shine was on the trails and hard pack off trail. Our model was equipped with the ATAC and after a few days of riding and tweaking a bit I fell in love. Coming fast around hard turns where you expect ski lift, it laid down perfectly flat. Navigating up steep hard packed late season mountain snow couldn’t have felt more comfortable, especially when watching my riding buddies struggle in the conditions on their full-blown mountain sleds.
Of all the crossovers we reviewed I feel that this might just one of the best on the trail and certainly can get what you need done if you choose to go off trail.
I love to go fast, and anytime I can get the opportunity to ride the 200+ HP Yamaha turbo it never fails to excite. The XTX SE is quite a different animal than the XTX LE. Overall, I feel this sled falls in between the XTX LE and the Sidewinder MTX (that is no longer offered). Now I’m sure you already know that this is the heaviest in the lineup but it still offers awesome power to weight ratio so squeezing the throttle sheds those pounds in seconds. Having a turbo is so nice when going up and down in elevation – no clutching changes or adjusting clickers as you go up. The power is always there, and this really keeps you out of trouble when you start that hillclimb to the top… you don’t run out of power like naturally aspirated sleds.
On the trails the longer track really helps balance out the front weight and make it feel a lot shorter than it is. Having a slightly narrower ski stance than the standard XTX does give a bit more lift but it’s certainly manageable and a must needed trade-off for off-trail mobility. If you want a 4-stroke turbo crossover ‘mountain capable’ sled this would be your best, and frankly the only, option for 2022.