The Year of the Factory TURBO. 6 Questions to consider on your Ski-Doo mountain sled purchase.
There are those days you will remember for your whole life, and for me, the day Ski-Doo unveiled the Summit 850 Turbo is one I will not soon forget. From the unveil, through the tech presentation and into the next two days of riding and evaluating, the experience left me knowing this was history in the making. The snowmobile industry would never be the same again. And, I was one of the lucky few selected to participate in the event. Snow conditions during this time were epic as the area around West Yellowstone had been engulfed by a raging winter storm for several days. In fact, snow conditions during that time were some of the very best I’ve ever ridden, making it perfect to evaluate this new Turbo sled. To top it off, I got to take one home with me for further evaluation.
Over the course of the past several weeks, we have been able to put this sled through its paces in a wide variety of snow conditions and elevations. We have found its strengths and weaknesses (not that it has many). While we love this sled in its element, we do feel that it is not for everyone. Following are six questions you should consider while contemplating your purchase decision.
1. What elevation is the majority of my riding at?
This is one of the most important questions to ask as it can qualify your purchase decision. You see, this new Turbo 850 uses a variable boost control. What this means is at sea level it is not making any more horsepower than its naturally aspirated sibling. As you climb in elevation, the turbo increases the intake charge pressure to make up for the loss of atmospheric pressure up to a maximum of 4 psi. This essentially maintains the horsepower at the 165 (the same as the naturally aspirated version at sea level).
At 8000’ in elevation, the turbo reaches its maximum 4 pounds of boost which delivers a 40 horsepower increase at this elevation. And at all elevations above 8000’, it maintains the 40 horse difference between it and its naturally aspirated siblings. You may be wondering at this point why this matters in your purchase decision. The answer is, at lower elevations, the 850 Turbo is not going to be much more powerful than non-turbo versions. But, as you climb higher in elevation, the spread between the naturally aspirated engine and the turbo increases to a maximum of 40 horsepower difference. If you look at the graph on the next page, it will help you understand this horsepower dynamic. We’d say, for most people riding below 3000’ elevation, they should purchase a naturally aspirated 850. For elevations of 3000’-6000’, some gain will be had, but the real gains are from about 6000’ and above. At those elevations, the horsepower made up by the turbo is a real advantage. And from 8000’ and above, the difference is at its maximum, making it a true consideration.
2. What type of riding do I want to do most?
If you are riding the trail a lot, with only an occasional dip into the deep snow meadows and play areas, this sled is most likely not right for you. Or, if you are typically riding with the family and the riding is slow going at times and not really that technical, another model may suit you better. We feel you should choose a naturally aspirated 850 and may consider one with a full-length tunnel and snow flap for maximum cooling at these slower speeds.
For riding in technical terrain, such as tight trees, creek bottoms, washes etc. this sled is at home. Unlike other turbo sleds, this one is light and nimble and the application of power and smooth power delivery will absolutely amaze you. Other than the audible whistle heard when the turbo begins boosting, you will not know that you have gone from naturally aspirated mode to boosted mode. Turbo lag is gone, making this engine almost as responsive as a naturally aspirated version off of the bottom and this is where most turbos struggle. This makes it perfect for riding in technical areas. These technical terrain areas are also where the naturally aspirated 850s like the Summit Expert shines. So, in reality, you could choose either model (naturally aspirated or turbocharged) and be quite happy depending on the depth of the snow you are typically riding in (see illustration).
As one would suppose, if your riding style consists of a lot of steep, long climbs (AKA hillclimbing or highmarking), this sled fulfills these needs perfectly especially at the higher elevations as discussed previously. In a high load hillclimb scenario at elevation, a stock naturally aspirated 850 is no match for the extra horsepower attained from the turbo. Here horsepower rules.
For those of you who enjoy jumping, and I am talking about really airing it out, the naturally aspirated version has the upper hand. These naturally aspirated versions are lighter than the turbo by 10 to 20 pounds depending on the model it is compared to, and this lighter weight makes them easier to control in the air. So, if your day consists of cutting a “Cheese Wedge” ramp into the side of a mountain for half of the day and the other half launching your beloved snowmobile into outer space, choose a light, well balanced naturally aspirated sled with great shocks like the Summit FreeRide.
3. What snow conditions do I ride most?
This sled is a true deep snow sweetheart. The deeper the snow, the better this Turbo sled performs. If you are continually riding in deep, powder snow conditions (we’d say 2 feet or more), you may find this sled very advantageous to you. We have to give the chassis credit for its ability to reach down deep, all the way to the traction below. This is due to the cut tunnel that it shares with the Summit Expert. As long as you can eventually find traction below, pin it, give the sled a wiggle, and it will about pull out of anything. The only problem is the trenches it leaves behind. It can be difficult to follow as those trenches can be really deep (6’ or so).
In firmer snow conditions, the extra weight of the Summit Turbo is somewhat noticeable. Even though the weight is within 13 pounds of our 2020 Summit Expert (we weighed them full of fuel and oil on the same day to verify this), the turbo sled rides slightly heavier. Don’t get me wrong, this sled is very light and nimble. Ski-Doo has done an excellent job of centralizing the mass of the turbo in an area that has a minimal impact on balance. However, if you ride them back to back, the Summit Expert has the advantage in handling in these firmer snow conditions. Part of this we feel is the extra weight on the nose of the turbo sled and part of it, we wonder, is from suspension setup to keep the turbo sled from over-transferring in deeper snow conditions. Whatever the reason, the Summit Expert has the handling advantage in firmer snow conditions.
4. How much do I weigh (including riding gear, etc.)?
The more you weigh, the more you need this sled. A rider weighing in around 150 definitely does not put the load on the sled of one weighing in at 220 or more. If you are on the heavier side and like to ride deep snow, you will really enjoy this sled. Not that the featherweights won’t like it too, but they don’t need the power as much as we do.
5. How important are long extended warranties to you?
For us, a warranty is less of a consideration as we tend to modify about everything we own and we do so knowing it could negate our warranty. But for many customers, a warranty provides piece of mind. We have friends that will not purchase a sled that does not come with a 4 year warranty. Their thought process is: keep the sled for 2 years and sell it with warranty left in order to maximize resale value. But face it, this is the first factory 2-stroke turbo. Never before have we had the ability to ride a turbo sled with a warranty. And, we feel Ski-Doo is stepping up to the plate by offering a two year warranty on the 2021 turbo models. We believe this will instill consumer confidence, increase resale value and overall show their commitment to this product offering. The 2021 turbo models have a 2 year warranty where the naturally aspirated versions carry a 4 year warranty, so you will have to make the decision of what priority the warranty is to you.
6. Do you plan to modify your snowmobile?
If you are planning on modifying your new snowmobile, know that since the naturally aspirated versions have been available since 2017, there is a wide variety of aftermarket products currently available for them. Some of these combinations will bring horsepower levels to the point that they will compete well with the factory turbo in many snow conditions at most elevations. But we are sure the aftermarket has already started working diligently on products for the turbo models. With the limited release of the 2020 turbo model, our opinion is aftermarket enhancements for these sleds will be available by the time snow falls next season. And as time goes on, the modifications available will be numerous. We feel this is an excellent starting platform for the mod guy as it appears the turbo engine will respond well to aftermarket parts for even more horsepower. However, beware that your warranty will most likely be null and void should you choose to modify it.
Ski-Doo really has changed the game with the release of this new turbo sled. It is the first turbo sled that we can say we could ride all season and enjoy each and every day. That is saying a lot, as we have been critical of many aftermarket turbo sleds where we feel their extra weight and turbo lag makes them less responsive to our rider inputs and can make them more difficult to ride in some snow conditions. This one is different. It is lightweight and responsive with excellent power delivery. It may not make as much power on top as some turbos that we have ridden, but it is enough for most of what we do. And we will take the consistency, throttle response, ease of operation and maintenance; literally gas, oil, pull the rope and go. It changed our opinion of what a turbo can be. Maybe it will change yours.
By Jerry Mathews – SnowTech Mountain
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