You’ve probably heard of the term trail snowmobile before. But lets talk about exactly what it is, and why it’s considered the most optimal model for beginner and intermediate riders to take out on the snow trails.
A trail snowmobile is a vehicle that seeks to combine both touring and performance into one machine. Sought after by new and recreational riders for it’s versatility, a trail snowmobile combines speed, handling, and comfort.
Not every person can afford a vast collection of vehicles, each suited for a specific, narrow niche. For regular people, the priority is to purchase a snowmobile that can fulfill any imaginable role, while maintaining functionality and maneuverability.
In this article, we will look at what makes a good trail snowmobile, and which current models you should consider.
Trail Snowmobile Description
To understand what exactly a trail snowmobile is, first we must know the differences between different models. After all, these are hybrid sleds, and it is impossible to understand a hybrid without knowing what it is hybridizing, and which features it combines.
First, we have a classic “touring” snowmobiles. These are the road cars of the winter trail world. Built for mileage, comfort, and ease of use.
- This is the ideal vehicle for those who just want a tour of the snowy outdoors.
- Touring snowmobiles are not made for straying from the beaten path.
- Of course, complete casual enthusiasts will gravitate towards these sleds.
- Usually, their gas mileage is very good, given that they are designed for easy trails.
The second type of snowmobile is the more sporty type. As its name suggests, the sport model is made for offroad fun in the snow. Mostly desired for their speed and handling.
- They feature smaller gas tanks
- Sturdier suspensions
- And less comfort overall.
As any seasoned rider can tell you, a whole different type of posture is required when riding across jagged terrain at greater speed.
Third, we have our titular models, trail snowmobiles.
Sticking to our car analogy, if touring models were road cars, sports models 4×4’s, the trail snowmobile would be an SUV. They intentionally try to combine some of the best features of both.
- Trail sleds are viable for both leisure strolls and high-octane fun.
- They are missing some of the creature comforts of other sleds, yet they compensate through versatility and an increased fun factor.
- A lightweight frame guarantees maneuverability, and they usually employ a 80HP engine.
- Some go up to 180-200 HP.
Before we move on, it should be mentioned that these are general guidelines and not lines that are set in stone. You will find a large diversity of models that deviate or adhere to these categories, while others can’t be so easily classified.
Also, there are more than 3 categories of snowmobile, each suited for a particular niche. The reason for an increased interest in trail sleds stems from their adaptability.
If you are on a budget and have to pick just one, a trail sled would be the ideal choice.
It is entirely possible to read about a model from different sources, each classifying it in different categories. Besides, some experts may break down the category even further, splitting it into trail snowmobiles, and sports trail snowmobiles.
For the sake of clarification, this article refers to models that adopt a hybrid approach between performance and comfort.
Watch this video to see the variety of trail snowmobiles there are, and what they are best suited for:
Pros and Cons of Trail Snowmobiles
As any hybrid model, trail snowmobiles attempt to combine the best of both worlds. In this case, they aim for a compromise. Yet, they do not excel in either, they are just decent at both.
As previously mentioned, the sturdy suspensions allow trail snowmobiles to absorb much more shock. This is ideal for having a little afternoon fun and straying from the beaten path.
Still, it has the frame of a touring, cruising model. While this frame is easier to control, it can absorb much less punishment. Critical failure has been known to occur when the rider attempts courses meant for mountain snowmobiles.
The engine is slightly stronger, making acceleration easier, yet the tracks and overall torque can be sub-par. You need to keep your ambitions in check while riding one of these things.
Many people find themselves quickly outgrowing their trail snowmobiles, especially when they graduate from beginners to more experienced riders. So let us see what are the pros and cons of trail snowmobiles.
- A lighter frame makes it easier for beginners to learn to control it
- You can ride more aggressively, given the stronger suspensions
- Includes sporty upgrades that are missing from a touring sled
- Not necessarily friendly towards advanced riders
- Faster, but not the fastest
Examples of Trail Snowmobiles
Here are just some of the most prolific sleds that fall into the trail snowmobile category:
- Ski-Doo Renegade Sport 600 ACE
- Ski-Doo Backcountry X-RS® 146 850 E-TEC
- Ski-Doo Renegade Enduro 900 ACE
- Ski-Doo Renegade X 900 ACE Turbo
- Polaris Switchback PRO-S 600
- Ski-Doo Renegade Enduro 900 ACE
Top 5 Trail Snowmobiles
When talking about any classification, a high degree of subjectivism is involved. Each rider has his/her own criteria, from the relation between cost/performance to the balance between durability and speed.
Regardless, there is a model that can satisfy any need, and below we will show you the top 5 trail snowmobiles on the market:
5. Arctic Cat ZR 8000 RR 137
We are allowed to sometimes be a little superficial in our opinions. By far, the Arctic Cat ZR 8000 RR 13 is one of the best-looking sleds ever to stride atop a slope.
Its new-gen body panel is a blur of aggressive, aerodynamic lines, complemented with a set of gorgeous LED headlights. Even the windscreen is sloped and has a fast, aggressive look. (source)
- It has a Horizontal In-line, 2 cylinder engine with an adjusted ski stance, and heated handgrips.
- Has great steering, as it cuts sharp corners like a knife. You never feel like you’re oversteering this model.
- The start mechanism is electric.
Here’s a quick review video of the 2020 model:
It can get a little pricy, which is a definite drawback for most sledders.
4. Ski-Doo Backcountry 600 EFI Sport
This model ticks all the right boxes. It features an innovative fuel-injected 600 CC 2 stroke-engine and can output 85 horsepower.
It is part of a new Sport series that offers a complete package for a reasonable price, especially when compared to our previous entry.
It has a hydraulic disk brake and a manual steering type with handlebar control. (source)
- The 2021 Ski-Doo Backcountry 600 EFI Sport uses Independent Double A-Arm suspensions with Shock Mounted Adjustment.
- It has a one-piece seat, nonadjustable, atop a durable aluminum frame.
- The body is made out of plastic.
- It also has an electric start.
Here’s a quick review video of the 2021 model:
Halogen headlights are used, lacking the LED headlights of other models. Overall, the Ski-Doo Backcountry 600 EFI Sport is a promising start to an even more promising series, and it is a decent choice for beginners/intermediate riders.
3. Yamaha SX Venom
I don’t know if it’s possible to give something bonus points for having a cool name. But if it was, the Yamaha SX Venom would get first place.
Superficial standards aside, one of the main benefits of getting this model is that you don’t have to break the bank to purchase it. (source)
- It has a single-cylinder, 2-stroke engine, shock-mounted adjustment, and manual handlebar steering.
- Riders will sit atop a one-piece vinyl seat, an aluminum frame, and a plastic body.
- The start is electric.
Here’s a quick review video of the 2021 Venom:
This is a medium-sized sled, meant to represent a middle ground between the 200’s and a full-sized sled.
2. Polaris Switchback Assault 850 144
This new Spring-order model from Polaris is one of the most customizable and customer-friendly models on the market. (source)
- This is a 2 cylinder, 2-stroke, semi-injection 850CC motor which can put out around 170-180 HP.
- In terms of performance, it’s about as best as you can get without having to buy some 4-charged, turbo stroke model.
- It features a 144-inch track which slightly has an upward steep, acting like a shorter track for most of the time.
- Yet, when in deeper snow, you will benefit from the traction of all 144 inches.
Here’s a review video of the Switchback Assault 2020 model:
This is Polaris’s best effort to date and is worth the slightly higher price.
1. Arctic Cat ZR 9000 Thundercat 137
The 2021 Arctic Cat ZR 9000 Thundercat 137 offers a blazing-fast experience for any rider, and it shows.
For those who are not aware, these are the Mustangs of the snowmobile world, designed to do 2 things: drain the bank account and impress anyone who lays eyes on them.
- The model has an Aluminium ProCross frame with a one-piece, non-adjustable seat.
- The body is standard plastic, yet it features a sleek design of the aggressive lines that are designed to cut air, and look good while doing it.
The crown jewel of the 2021 Arctic Cat ZR 9000 Thundercat 137 is its engine, a 3 cylinder, 4-stroke beast that can go up to 200 HP and 8750 RPM. (source)
Here’s a review video of the 2019 Arctic Cat ZR 9000 Thundercat 137:
Make no mistake, this is not a model designed for a smooth ride. It is a high-performance rocket that is meant to go as fast as possible.
While the independent double-wishbone suspensions will get you to where you need to go, comfort is a secondary objective.