Back fifteen years or so, a mountain sled like a Polaris RMK could be found in a track length as short as a 136”. Since that time the RMK deep snow mountain sleds have gotten longer in track length and narrower in width, making them even more agile and responsive, able to tuck into a sidehill and pop up on top, floating through some of the deepest powder.
Meanwhile, the mid-length sleds have taken on a new role, bridging the gap between short-track trail sleds for packed trails and the super-long deep snow mountain sleds. Yep, we’re talking crossover sleds. But with each passing year, the definition of “crossover” morphs and evolves into something new and something different. We now have trail-biased crossover sleds in the 136/137” track length, and we have deep snow biased crossover sleds in lengths all the way up to 155”, like the Polaris 800 SKS 155”.
Not everyone lives or rides where the snow is copious deep and fresh, and not everyone has the luxury of being able to take off into deep snow right off the trailer. Many riders have to make their way down a trail for a while to get to the off trail riding, and even then the snow might be sticky or packed more often than they would like to admit. And as we all know, in these kind of riding and snow conditions, a 163” track with 3” lugs is not going to be the best choice.
As riders have been buying the longer track sleds with taller and taller lugs, they discovered a couple of things – the longer track sleds sure did work good in the epic conditions, but they also discovered they weren’t riding in those kind of conditions all that often. These mega mountain machines were a pain to ride for any length down a trail with all of that track on the ground, and they didn’t like to come around trees all that quickly either. They worked great in the right conditions, but not so great the rest of the time – and for some, this was most of the time. For many riders, this length and lug height is just too much for the majority of their riding.
Slowly, the snowmobile manufacturers have filled just about every gap there is in terms of track lengths and lug heights, and now are expanding these selections into various front end widths as well. Polaris enjoyed great success with the introduction of their 800 SKS 155” for deep snow trail riders and hit a home run with their 800 Switchback Assault 144”, more of a 50/50 on/off trail crossover sled. Many riders even opted for the 2” track length in their 144” Assault, closing the gap even further.
A rider can now pretty much choose their desired track length, choose their lug height and choose their front end width, seeking the elusive blend of features and capabilities that best matches their typical riding conditions and personal preferences.
With the wild popularity of both of these sleds, it seems to make perfect sense for Polaris to come with yet another sled that fits smack in-between these two models; enter the 2018 Polaris 800 SKS 146”.
The 800 SKS 146” is truly a blend of the Switchback Assault and SKS 155”. For many riders, this is all the more mountain sled they will ever need, but they also get a sled that will perform across a wider range of conditions than the all-out powder hounds. Most obvious is the slightly shorter, more responsive 146” track length, a Series 5.2 track with 2.25” lug height that delivers outstanding traction both on- and off-trail with excellent durability. This 146” track is wrapped around the IGX rear suspension from the popular Switchback Assault. This means it is a tipped-up rail for excellent on-trail handling, with the longer front arm and revised geometry to control pitch. Compared to the rear suspensions used in the SKS 155” and the RMK models, this is going to be a superior set-up for the time spend on trails with its progressive rate geometry and bump capability.
Another feature from the Switchback Assault is the PowderTrac hybrid running boards, an optimized design with 56% open space for maximum snow clean out while maintaining extreme strength. This design aims to serve the needs of riders both on- & off-trail, as the front is wide & flat for foot comfort & stability; rear has tapered, dual-angle design for mobility & snow clearance.
The SKS also features the narrow 39-41 in. adjustable front end similar to that of the PRO-RMK, allowing you to set it up for more stability or ultimate performance while tree-riding and boondocking. Forged aluminum A-Arms are stronger and lighter for enhanced handling, and Walker Evans Piggyback Clicker Shocks give you both strength and adjustability.
Leaning back towards the RMK, we find a ProTaper Handlebar with Mountain Hoop providing outstanding steering leverage. The flat design comes with integrated mountain hooks for easy deep snow riding & aggressive cornering, along with a stylized one-piece design center grab bar, or hoop. The hoop design & positioning provides clearance between hoop & rider in steep terrain and is made of a durable polyurethane material.
From a character stand point, the SKS 146 is designed to be a most responsive machine in the deep powder while maintaining confident on-trail handling and bump capability. It’s a better trail sled than any of the RMKs, and a better deep snow sled than the Switchback Assault 2.0”. Even though it is positioned in the RMK model line, it is really aimed more at the crossover rider as it is purpose-built for deep snow riders that also need more confident handling and control on the trails. Where the Switchback Assault is a perfect 50/50 sled, the SKS 146” is going to be more like a 60/40 or 65/35 off trail/on trail balance. We believe it fair to say this is the Polaris equivalent to the Ski-Doo Freeride 146” which is a Summit-based sled in the 146” track length, clearly more of an off-trail sled than on-trail. In the Arctic Cat line-up it would be the XF High Country that best matches the SKS 146”. The Switchback Assault is more of a match for Ski-Doo’s new Backcountry & Backcountry X models, both aimed at the true 50/50 riders. We’re really splitting hairs here, tweaking the length, lug height and front end widths to best match each rider’s wants and needs. These are all very good sleds, with each one being excellent when used in the appropriate environment.
Who is the target buyer of this sled? Since the feature set leans more towards the deep snow rider, it is going to be better suited for western riding areas that have both trails and off-trail opportunity. Western trails tend to have far more loose snow than the packed conditions back east, thus the taller lug height tracks can survive on the trail. Generally, western riders are not going to riding a groomed trail for hundreds of miles like eastern riders, so they prioritize the lug height for the off trail, not the packed trail.
Another consideration is the narrower front end. For sure, there will be riders in the east that will be very tempted by the SKS 146”, but the narrow front end is going to be much better suited in steeper riding than it will be for flat deep snow conditions. You can justify a deep lug track based on snow depths, but when it comes to the narrow front end it is typically going to be the amount of leaning the sled into a hill or how often they are tipping the sled up onto one ski that is the qualifier. This being the case, low elevation riders will tend to opt for the Switchback Assault and go with the deeper lug track option if their snow depths can justify it.
These are all of the logical reasons, but you know many times a new sled is bought on emotion, not logic. It is bought on the image it projects. Riders want to look bad-ass on a mountain sled, only to find they are throwing lugs off the track because they are going too fast on hard pack and the track gets really hot, or always taking corners on one ski using the brakes to get it to come around because the front end is too narrow for the type of trails they are on. The 800 SKS 146” is going to be a far better match for low elevation deep snow riders than any of the longer RMK models, but it will also be a better match for a large number of western riders who just don’t see epic snow depths all that often.
Between the SKS 155”, SKS 146” and Switchback Assault 144” Polaris has three excellent machines to choose from, incrementally changing off/on trail the ratio with track length, lug height and front end width. If riders are truly honest with themselves, they might find the 800 SKS 146” to be the better choice for where and how they ride, across a wider range of conditions. It just might be the ideal all-around snowmobile for the majority of western snowmobilers.
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