It shouldn’t come as a surprise to see Ski-Doo’s popular Backcountry series of crossover sleds make the jump to the Gen5 platform for 2024. What did come as a surprise was all of the updates and changes these sleds received in the process. Instead of simply taking a really good package and updating it to the new Gen5 platform, the Ski-Doo engineers decided to enhance the machine even further.
Ski-Doo tells us their customers who owned Gen4 Backcountry sleds were asking for three main improvements; the highest priority was to improve the control and precision on the trail; second, was to do so without compromising the deep snow performance and fun factor; third was to do so with a higher level of reliability and durability.
To this end, Ski-Doo upgraded their Backcountry models front to back to maintain balanced vehicle dynamics, delivering improved trail control and precision. Going to the Gen5 platform gives us the benefits of the narrower body with sound reducing insulation, the 4th engine mount for reduced vibration and improved drive belt alignment, enhanced CVT cooling, LED headlights and the optional 10.25” color touch screen. That’s all cool stuff, but the true changes in how it works when you ride it are found in the front and rear – steering and rear suspension.
Starting up front we now find the elusive rack steering system for the first time on a Backcountry model. The rack steering was on many of the Gen4 MX Z and Renegade sleds, first on the X and X-RS packages then it was limited to the X-RS packages. Despite it being slightly heavier than the single pitman arm steering it was a more accurate steering system and most welcome on the rather twitchy Ski-Doo front ends. We always wondered why they just didn’t put it on all of their sleds, but they wanted to keep it as a premium feature for their premium models.
Adding the rack steering system gives us added stability and precision with the total elimination of bump steer and less feedback through the handlebars. It’s all about getting the sled to track straighter through the bumps and be even more predictable to the rider through even rougher terrain. Bump steer refers to the variation in ski alignment as the suspension moves through its travel. Instead of having the ski alignment changing as the suspension strokes, the skis and runners are now held even closer to perfect alignment with the rack steering. This all adds up to deliver improved precision, stability and predictability for added confidence when riding on the trail.
Out back we find a new cMotion X rear suspension. This is a crossover-specific 146” rising-rate suspension that combines the best of the (trail) rMotion X and (mountain) tMotion X suspensions for stunning bump compliance along with excellent weight transfer, making it perfect for 50/50 crossover applications. The cMotion X actually features 80% new components and is three pounds lighter. Geometry-wise the rear arm has been located 30mm further back and the rear shock is now 22mm longer, with the front arm now 13mm longer. Rear arm travel (measured at the bump stop) is now 25mm greater. Rail-mounted ice scratchers are now standard items as well. This all results in well-balanced weight transfer from the uncoupled skid for excellent performance both on- and off-trail.
1,500 Mile Test Report
So, here’s the deal. We rode both the Backcountry X-RS and X out in Idaho and Montana on two occasions in February for four days total, then we had them up at our test facility in the western U.P. of Michigan for the later part of March so we ended up with about 500 miles on the “Neo Mint” X-RS and 1,382 miles on the “Arctic Desert” X. This is what we are basing our impressions on, not a single ride for an hour, not a single day on a certain type of snow, but several days in several states with varied snow conditions for well over 1,500 miles.
Those of you familiar with SnowTech and with how and where we ride know we have been perhaps the greatest advocates of crossover sleds since their inception. One of the things we have learned over the years is different people have a different definition of what is “off-trail” riding. Some people call anything off the groomed trail “off-trail” riding, including forest roads. In our eyes forest roads, ungroomed ones, are still riding “on-trail”. This difference in definition makes a difference in how you rate and evaluate a crossover sled, especially when it is being called a 50/50 crossover. The first 50 is the on-trail performance, the second 50 is the off-trail performance. Where does the un-groomed forest road performance rate, on or off?
This is where we continue to see so much of a difference in how the Backcountry sleds perform compared to say the Polaris Switchback sleds. To us it is the difference in front end widths and rear suspension performance that makes these two sleds so vastly different, even though they both lay claim to being 50/50 crossover sleds. We used to say the Polaris was more of a 60/40 and the Ski-Doo more of a 40/60 with the Polaris being the more stable sled on trail and the Ski-Doo being the better off-trail sled. The wide front end makes for a more stable trail sled, be it groomed or forest roads. The narrow front end is easier to tip up and sidehill in deeper snow. This remains true with the Gen5 Backcountry as it remains the more capable off-trail sled in deep snow.
This is why Ski-Doo opted to improve their on-trail performance while maintaining their off-trail capability. Where we fully expected the single biggest and most noticeable change and improvement to be from the rack steering and front end manners it was actually the new cMotion X rear suspension that made the biggest difference. Ski-Doo already had the smoother suspension and superior ride quality and now it is that much better yet again. But in the process they truly did improve their handling going down the trail. Yes it does have greater precision, stability and predictability for added confidence when riding on the trail. That said, it is not a wide front end like a Switchback, know this. It’s not a matter of right or wrong but one of being different. If you own and ride a Gen4 Backcountry, when you hop on your new Gen5 Backcountry you will indeed notice the difference from the front end as it will have less feedback through the bars from the terrain, it will corner with greater confidence and it will be even more predictable than before. And it will be slightly more stable than before but it will still lift the inside ski at times where a wider front end will not. This is part of the magic in maintaining the off-trail performance. Ski-Doo has widened their performance envelope by maintaining their off-trail capability while giving you improved on-trail performance.
We’re trying to be as straight with you as we can here. The Gen5 Backcountry is more refined with less vibration and less noise, but it is a colder sled to ride. We have yet to find a Gen5 windshield that works as well many of our Gen4 options, something we chalk up to the narrower body design. Having ice scratchers come standard is a big deal as we have added ice scratchers to every single Backcountry we’ve ever had. These sleds run hotter than any of our other crossover sleds and we have to drop the scratchers earlier and more often, something we believe to be caused by reduced cooling capacity in the extrusions. Of all the sleds in a crossover riding group the Backcountry will always be running hotter than the others when going down the trail, and on some days you flat out need to run scratchers.
One of the more curious observations was from our riders who had spent considerable time on their 146” Lynx Xterrain sleds they had. They all commented on how much lighter the Backcountry X and X-RS felt in comparison, how much easier it was to tip them up (Xterrain is a wide front end) and how good the cMotion X rear suspension performed in comparison. This surprised us. The fact of the matter was we weren’t getting into terrain that was nasty enough to truly appreciate what the Lynx was capable of and the improved cMotion X could pretty much handle anything and everything that we wanted it to do.
Even when you compare the ride from the cMotion X to the Gen4 cMotion you will find the biggest single improvement in the sled for 2024. This skid flat out works through the bumps, it transfers weight well (not quite as abruptly as the previous skid) to pop up out of the snow and can drop the skis back down in a balanced manner to give you the cornering confidence you are looking for. So, the claim of improving on-trail performance while maintaining off-trail capability seems to be valid. The rear of the rails are still tipped up slightly but the sled does feel longer when cornering than a 137” Renegade. In comparison, a Polaris Switchback Assault feels shorter than the Backcountry, something we attribute to the slightly greater rail tip-up angle of the Polaris. This is comparing the same 146” lengths and 1.6” Cobra lug heights on both.
When it comes to X-RS vs. X package it was pretty much one of shock packages and suspension calibration more than anything else. Most everyone should be familiar with the added adjustability of the X-RS and the ability to take on even bigger terrain at higher speeds with the better shock package. Where the X comes with KYB 36 Plus shocks front and center and KYB Pro 36 in the rear the X-RS comes with adjustable KYB Pro 36 EA-3 (3-position clicker) shocks up front and larger diameter KYB Pro 40 EA-3 at center and rear. In simple terms, only the rear shock is adjustable on the X where all four shocks are adjustable on the X-RS. All of these are rebuildable and revalvable aluminum body shocks. The X-RS has additional rail reinforcements also.
To sum it up, Ski-Doo has truly improved their Backcountry X and X-RS in many ways with the migration to the Gen5 platform. It’s quieter, smoother, more compliant and better balanced with broader performance capability across a wider range of conditions, on- and off-trail, with (arguably) one of the very best suspension packages available from anybody. What it really comes down to is how well this added capability lines up with your typical riding conditions and your own personal preferences. Truth be known, a deep lug longer track sled will always work better in deeper snow but will always be worse on any type of trail. For that matter, a shorter track length and wider front end will always work better on-trail but be far worse in deeper snow. But, if you swing both ways and want the broadest range of capabilities the Backcountry sleds are now even better. If you truly ride off-trail as much as you do on-trail then this is the ticket. Even if you like to run the ungroomed trails and forest roads more than anything else this is going to be a superior choice!