A Historic Moment for Snowmobiling
Thinking back over the history of snowmobiling we can all think of some epic moments in history where new sleds or technology came along that, looking back, can truly be identified as game-changing. Sleds like the Polaris TX-L Indy back in 1980 with its trailing arm IFS front suspension. Maybe even the first XLT Special with the XTRA-14 long travel rear suspension (to keep up with the IFS front end). Most of us will all agree that the very first Ski-Doo REV of 2003 was perhaps the BIG one, bringing us rider-forward ergonomics and forcing the rest of the industry to follow or get left behind. Snowmobiling has never been the same.
You see, every now and then something REALLY big happens that truly changes the rules and changes the game. It is so radically better that it obsoletes all that came before it. Every now and then we get to see a real REVOLUTION occur.
This is one of those times. In the world of deep snow mountain sleds, power to weight ratio is what it’s all about. As elevation increases, naturally aspirated engines lose power, to the tune of about 3% per 1,000 foot of elevation gain. That robs us of right about 24% of our power at 8,000 foot elevation. An 850 two-stroke that makes 165 HP at sea level is only going to be producing about 125 HP at 8,000 feet, and even less as you climb higher.
But give us that same 165 HP at 8,000 feet with the lightweight of a two-stroke engine, and it is game on – BIG TIME!
Enter the latest engine configuration from the two-stroke masters at Rotax –the 2020.5 Ski-Doo 850 E-TEC Turbo. Yep, a turbocharged 850 two-stroke. The only factory-built two-stroke turbo engine in the world. Let this sink in for a moment. At 8,000 feet elevation we’re going from 125 to 165 HP full power. Whoa. Ya, whoa is right.
This is HUGE. No power loss as you gain in elevation – at least up to about 8,000 feet. Call it an altitude compensator if you will, but (for the most part) the sled will run the same and make the same power, with the same clutching and gearing all the way. Cool. Past 8,000 feet it will still be making 40 more HP than it would be otherwise, so it’s still a VERY BIG deal.
If it was all about power, we’d all be riding four-stroke turbo sleds in the mountains. And as we all know, that ain’t happening. Not many turbo four-strokes out there slicing and dicing through the powder, jumping cornices or climbing chutes. At least not with the agility of a two-stroke. Yep, they have the power, but they also have the weight. For most riders this is simply unacceptable.
As the design and construction of two-stroke engines has evolved over the years, so has their durability. Lessons learned with four-stroke turbo engine design and construction has also advanced the knowledge base as well. As the snowmobile aftermarket became more capable of fitting turbocharger systems to two-stroke engines, their consistency, durability and performance continued to evolve and advance.
Having a turbocharged two-stroke right from the factory has always been the holy grail for a mountain rider. They know all too well how much power is lost with elevation. Many have ridden a turbo two-stroke and there is no doubt as to the power. What was in doubt was the reliability, the durability and the consistency.
Enter the factory connection. If Ski-Doo is willing to build and sell a turbocharged two-stroke, you know it has the full backing of the design and engineering not only of Ski-Doo but of engine manufacturer Rotax in Austria. They’ve just brought their first turbocharged four-stroke to market for 2019 and have been building boosted engines for other applications for many years. You know that if they bring a turbocharged two-stroke to market that it has been designed specifically for the application and is not simply an add-on. It will have the benefit of full factory design, engineering, calibration and the biggie – warranty – which will overcome the objections of the past.
Yes, this is truly revolutionary. In true Ski-Doo fashion, they again aim to change not only the rules but the entire game. Call it epic, call it a new dawn in the era of snowmobiling, call it what you want. We call it historic. Mountain riding will never be the same.