Dear Ralph: I realize this isn’t your normal tech question, but I didn’t know who else to ask, so here goes. I notice how...

Dear Ralph:
I realize this isn’t your normal tech question, but I didn’t know who else to ask, so here goes. I notice how other sled magazines (none of which I subscribe to any longer, you should know) like to award a “Sled of the Year” to a brand-new machine each year. My question is actually multiple; first, why doesn’t SnowTech name a “Sled of the Year” or anything similar (because I and many others would place greater value on your opinion) and second, how can the other mags do this before the snow even flies?
Call me “Curious George”

Your second question actually answers the first one. We’ve learned over the years that what the magazines ride in the Spring is often a far cry from the actual production sleds that show up in the dealerships in the Fall. History has demonstrated the machines (prototypes and pre-production units) available for spring photography are just that; photo sleds that “look” good but may or may not be an accurate performance representative of the for-real production sleds. Often, they are hand-tuned (and super-tuned) machines that look very much like we can buy in the Fall, but often are ringers in that they are not a fair gauge from which to proclaim such “winners”.

Long-time subscribers of SnowTech are familiar with how we used to review the test sleds available to us in March in our April issue, but again, history has shown us that to make such bold statements based on a handful of super-tuned prototypes is risky and sometimes downright scary. Most of us can sort through new sleds that have been introduced over the years and identify which ones were dead-nuts right on and those that were dogs right out of the gate, despite glowing reports of their performance in prototype form.

That being said, the mags can pretty much identify what machines hold great potential, and this is the basis (I assume) the choices are being made. Our approach is that we’d rather wait and see how a brand-new model performs in actual production form in the hands of thousands of riders across the snowbelt, and after we get a chance to ride them and tinker with them for an entire season. This approach has proven to be far more accurate in terms of sorting out fact from fiction.

Know this; ALL of the sled reviews you are reading in the Fall before the snow flies are based on the prototypes and pre-production units from January and March. This is true with ALL of the sled mags, but very few come right out and alert you of this. We do. Most of the time this riding of the prototypes is the majority of the riding the magazines do (not us), so they may not know the difference between a super-tuned prototype and the reality of what people like you have bought and are riding. Reader beware. The only exceptions to this would be the late release models (or early release, depending on how we look at it) like the 2006 Arctic Cat Crossfire that came out in January.

OK, so maybe we should declare a sled of the year at the end of the year, or midway through? Designations like this are usually made to help sell sleds, so while the timing is off, we have considered it. Based on our testing last season and feedback from our network of readers and dealers in the field, we would lean towards the MX Z Renegade X 600 H.O. SDI as our “Sled of the Year” from the 2005 models. This could be expanded to any of the 600 H.O. SDI models, as it was an EPA-compliant 2-stroke with exceptional running quality, fuel economy, and overall performance and owner satisfaction. With features like RER electronic reverse, optional 1+1 seating, the REV rider-forward ergonomics, ability to carry cargo and an extra fuel tank (together), and the technologically advanced fuel injection system (already in its second year for 2005) it was the best sled from the broadest perspective, based on real-world production-sled performance and function. Ride, handling, responsiveness, balance, traction, all of it. Especially after we added a Summit windshield and a Ripsaw track.

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