Each year when we get the chance to see and ride the prototypes of next year’s snowmobiles, we continue to be amazed at the...

Each year when we get the chance to see and ride the prototypes of next year’s snowmobiles, we continue to be amazed at the time and effort that each manufacturer puts into their line-up for the next season. It used to be that introductions with huge changes only happened every few years, but lately it seems like each OEM is coming out with something really wild quite a bit sooner. We are truly privileged to be able to attend the new model presentations, ride some of the prototype hardware and report to you what our impressions are. And, most of the time, the full-build production sleds in the fall are fairly close to what we report on so you can make informed buying decisions. That is our goal.

New sled sales haven’t been exactly been on fire, but in our neck of the woods used sleds and carry over units went out the door faster than they have in several years. Many buyers walked into a dealership for the first time in many years and about fell over when they saw the sticker prices on the new sleds, the HP numbers, and the overall bulk and massiveness of the new iron. Whatever happened to the $4,000-$5,000 machines? This is what happens when the casual riders, the ones that come and go with the snow, come out of the woodwork.

The OEMs have been forced to build what they can sell, and in years of low snow they build what the hard core riders, people like you (qualified by reading a techie magazine like this) want to buy. We’re the ones they have always been able to count on, regardless of local riding conditions. But as this demographic ages (and shrinks), the manufacturers try to guess on how to expand the market for the future. What types of products will again create higher demand (and sales and profits)?

To this end, there is a concerted effort to revitalize the market and bring new riders into the sport. To a point, this has more to do with good snow than product offering, but it really came to light with the likes of the Ski-Doo Freestyle last season. Cheaper, lower powered sleds have long been the “old” stuff, but not any more. This new breed is hi-tech smaller and lighter, and the kicker; more affordable.

Yamaha jacks this effort up a notch for 2007 with their outstanding Phazer models, starting with a retail price of $6,399 (low by today’s standards). Radical styling like this is sure to appeal to younger riders who don’t have as much jing in their pockets as the rest of us, but these sleds can be appreciated by all of us.

In our own test fleet, one of the best bang for the buck sleds we have is a 2006 Ski-Doo MX Z Trail (500 SS) that retailed for $6,649. This was $3,100 less than a MX Z Adrenaline 800 H.O. that looks (and functions) nearly identically in many respects. Most anyone can hop on it and have a riot riding it, and there’s no need to break the bank doing it. This is no slow-poke, it is a 100+ HP hi-tech sled at a great price; that’s value.

The good thing for consumers is the competition keeps the OEMs working hard to provide better product at competitive prices. There is no need to have to buy a $10,000 sled that is capable of going well over 100 mph to have hi-tech fun.

Case in point; the “Indy Lite Rally” that used to be held at our local Polaris dealer. Some of us would get together (informally) and all hop on 340 Indy Lites and race up to the state park and back. Wide open throttle, drive with your brake, one of the funnest rides of the year. You could manhandle those little light sleds, throw them around instead of being thrown around, laughing all the way. Less seriousness; more casual fun.

Now, it looks like the days of smaller, lighter, and full-of-fun sleds are coming back. Maybe the less expensive sleds aren’t for you, but you’re going to see a bunch of them out on the snow next season, with their owners having a riot. New riders want to be comfortable, not have the hell scared out of them, so if you introduce somebody new to the sport, keep this in mind if you ever want them to come back and do it again.

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