By Jerry Matthews / SnowTech Western Test Staff –
When we were invited to the Ski-Doo Sneak Peak of the 2018 mountain models back in December, we wondered what Ski-Doo had up there sleeve that was important enough for us to head up to CKMP (Carl Kuster Mountain Park) in Sicamous, British Columbia Canada. Like many of you, we expected them to show a 174” G4 850 Summit as well as a G4 850 Freeride. But, we questioned if this was enough to travel all the way up there and get out onto the snow for a day. We figured that they had something extra special they were about to release and wanted us to experience it firsthand. We will say that Ski-Doo has a way of building anticipation for an event like this, but with the full release of the G4 850 just one year ago, we wondered what it could be. Let us assure you, they did not disappoint.
We all expected Ski-Doo to stretch the G4 Summit 850 out to a 174” track length, and actually they gave us an extra inch, stretching it to 175. This much anticipated sled will be offered in both Summit SP and X packages, but the X package will only be available as a Spring order.
I see this sled as being the “perfect sled” for two totally separate rider categories, and you may be surprised by my opinion here. They are beginner to the low end of intermediate, and also for the expert. The expert rider is not a surprise at all as he is always searching for that sick line in the deepest snow known to man. Unless you have a 175, you will not be able to get there on the deepest days. But the reason I place it as a perfect beginner to intermediate rider’s sled is this rider likes to slow down when negotiating their line. On this sled, you can do that without the fear of getting stuck (at least not as often). In certain conditions you can come to a complete stop while pointed uphill, reposition or pick your line and take off again. It is an amazing sled for that. And best of all, it is still extremely nimble in the trees. In fact, it will open more riding areas up that you previously thought impossible.
This sled excels on steep sidehills. You can traverse an almost vertical sidehill with ease, and it allows you to be a bit lazier with your foot positioning while doing so. When traversing a steep sidehill, it has much less of a tendency to wash out and leave you pointed uphill stuck.
The 175” will climb about anything that snow will stick to. I’m not saying it cannot get stuck, but it is very resistant to it. I love the G4 Summit platform for its manners in deep snow. This sled will go much farther than the T3 174 Summit that it replaces. Because of its balance side to side (equal weight on each ski), this new chassis is much easier to handle. Couple that great handling with the 850 engine and 175” track and you end up with a nearly unstoppable machine that is extremely fun to ride. It is sick, very sick, to have this kind of capability in a bone-stock sled.
The rest of the Summit line remains fairly unchanged. The riser block is shortened by one inch and we get a new 146” track length in the Summit SP family. All Summit models can be ordered with the new SHOT option (covered later), and you are going to want to read about this.
Freeride 154/165 –
For 2018 the Freeride gets updated to the Summit G4 platform with the 850 engine. And, with this chassis change comes refinement of its identity in the 154” and new 165” length models. These sleds are now closer to true Summits in their handling performance in the deep snow along with added strength through reinforced rails and a high end shock package that is more aggressively sprung and valved to take the big hits well. The key to their more agile feel is the front ends on these models (154 & 165) are now the same width as the Summits (with exception of the 154 S-38 which has an adjustable 38-40” ski stance, as does the 146” & 137”).
I found that the new Freeride 165” took more effort to roll into a sidehill than the Summit, but as long as you were aware of that it was just as capable as the Summit, even in the nastiest terrain. You have to commit more completely to a maneuver and use the skills you have to initiate it. But once you are there, it takes about the same effort as a Summit to maintain it. I attribute this mostly to the stiffer front shock package as it does not compress as easily as the Summit shocks and therefore resists initial roll-in a bit compared to the Summit.
I really liked the way the Freeride handles and rides in rough trail situations. This is where the premium shock package shines. It really soaks up the bumps and I would much rather be on a Freeride on the trail than a Summit. It also corners more positively due to reduced roll in the front end from the shocks. Speaking of shocks, they are equipped with KYB Pro 36 R Easy Adjust shocks. The shocks have less preload than previous Freeride models which helps them lay into a sidehill easier. These shocks are equipped with both compression and rebound adjustments.
The way I see it, the 2018 Freeride 154/165 is essentially a step up from a Summit X. I love the improved ride the shock package provides and felt the extra effort required to lay it into a sidehill was an acceptable tradeoff for me. However, the Freeride isn’t for everyone. Riders who desire the easiest sled to maneuver in technical terrain should still choose Summit X or SP models. For the more aggressive rider who wants to charge harder through the bumps on the trail or in the backcountry, this sled will be the one. In fact, I think a 165” G4 850 Freeride may well be my personal favorite Summit model for 2018, that is unless I’m in the really steep and deep, at which time I would take the 175” Summit X.
SHOT – A Revolutionary New Electric Start
SHOT is the coolest technology to hit the snowmobile industry since Ski-Doo released electronic reverse back in 1998. It is essentially a “Hot Start” mechanism without a heavy battery, starting motor or ring gear. How it works is when the SHOT button is pressed and held (with the engine off), energy is transferred from an Ultra Capacitor (an Ultra Capacitor is like a lightweight electronic battery) to the magneto, transforming it (and the flywheel with magnets) into an electric motor to turn the crankshaft. The ECM is also powered up and it then tells the E-TEC system to inject and ignite the fuel at just the right time for the engine to fire and run. The Ultra Capacitor can hold enough energy to start the sled even when it has been turned off for up to 30 minutes (and longer, with decreasing successful starts). It recharges within 20 seconds on a warm engine (on a cold engine, it may take up to 2 minutes, but this is mostly to bring the engine up to operating temperature).
So, first thing in the morning you will have to start the engine with the pull rope and let it warm up and allow the Ultra Capacitor to charge. Once the Ultra Capacitor is charged, the engine can be started by simply pressing and holding the SHOT button until the engine fires. Ski-Doo says it works for at least 30 minutes, but I found it often times will work for much longer. When it does start, it is so smooth, so quiet, seemingly like magic. It is really cool.
SHOT is a $600 upgrade ($200 more than regular electric start), and in my opinion it is worth every penny of that. I didn’t use or even reach for the rope to start the sleds even one time the whole day I was riding. I’m sure I started sleds over 40 times that day. Where it was extremely nice was when I was in an off camber position on a sidehill where reaching for the rope would have been difficult and may have even required walking to the opposite side of the machine. Instead, I was able to simply push the SHOT button and start the sled. SHOT allows you to have more energy to put into riding rather than rope starting your sled multiple times during the day.
Electric start has been available on mountain sleds for years, however, many mountain riders won’t accept the 20 pound plus weight penalty as well as the additional rotating mass that is added in the form of a ring gear. In my experience, traditional electric start sleds have always been lower performers due to this weight. Typically, I have found 1 to 2 sled lengths difference in a drag race between models equipped with electric start and ones that are not. And this doesn’t take into effect having to muscle the sled around in the deep snow all day with the heavy electric start motor, battery and ring gear. So, in the past, electric start was an option that I was not interested in at all. This has all changed with SHOT. With only a 2 pound weight penalty and no performance penalty, SHOT will be on every Ski-Doo model I own in the future.
SHOT is not retrofit-able to 850 models that were not ordered with it from the factory. So, when ordering or purchasing your sled, make sure it is equipped with the SHOT option. Otherwise you will be trading it off prematurely for one with SHOT. Use it for a day and you will agree with me that every sled should be equipped with it. For mountain riders, this one is a game-changer.
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Read about the entire 2018 Ski-Doo release here.