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Choosing the Right Snowmobile

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Summit 800 and a Pair of 600'sWelcome to the greatest place in the world to own and ride a snowmobile. As the largest Ski-Doo dealer in North America, we want you to have the very best experience possible and will do everything we can to make that happen. Whether you’re a professional racer or someone brand new to the sport, we’re here to help make your ride safe, successful, and pleasurable for years to come.

Making the Right Choice  If you’ve ridden a lot you know what you want, but for the new rider the choice isn’t as simple. There are currently well over 40 different Ski-Doo models to choose from, and picking the right machine for you and your style of riding is very important. It’s nice to make a good selection the first time around, and with the right sled you’ll be embarking on an exciting life sport that you, your friends, and your entire family can enjoy for many years to come.

Riding Style  The first thing to consider is how you intend to ride. One-up, or with a passenger? On groomed trails (of which there aren’t a whole lot in Alaska) or mostly in deep powder? Just for recreation or to hunt from and haul equipment and supplies? These factors and more are important in making a choice because no one machine will do it all, and one designed for a certain set of conditions will vastly outperform another which is not. Here are some of the design factors that will affect your choice.

Track Length & Depth  Short track or long track? Full-size Ski-Doo snowmachines are built using tracks from 121” long to 159” long with a standard width of 15”. The longer (and wider) a track the bigger footprint it has on the snow and the more weight it will carry without bogging down or sinking in the snow. Short tracks with shallow lugs turn more quickly and will reach a higher top speed because they create less drag. You’ll find short tracks on most high performance “bump” sleds designed for trail or track use. “Powder” or “mountain” sleds have long tracks with deep lugs to pull a huge amount of snow through the system and provide higher flotation in deep conditions. Utility or touring sleds designed to carry more than one person all have long tracks.

Track lug depths start at about .75” and go to 2” or more. The deeper the lugs the more snow the track will move as long as the machine has enough power to do it. But there are compromises here. Deep lugs work well in powder when you get off packed trails, but in hard conditions the lugs will flex and affect handling when pushed hard. They also cause drag and cut down on the top speed of a machine. If pure speed and maneuverability is your goal, stick with a modest track depth. In the mixed riding that many of us do here in Alaska, a 1.5” deep lug track is a really good compromise.

Ski Stance  Ski stance is a measure of how wide the front end of the machine is. The wider the stance the more stable the sled is (less inclined to tip from side to side when turning). Wide is good for most trail riding in fairly flat country. The narrower the stance the more dynamic the sled is (less stable laterally) and easier to roll on its side. This is great for maneuvering in powder where you want to be able to use your weight to pull the sled to one side or the other to carve turns or side-hill on one ski along a steep incline. Narrow is also good if you need to maneuver between trees that are close together. Most utility sleds (Tundra, Skandics) have narrow ski stances.

Engine Power  All full-size Ski-Doos are powered by world-renowned Rotax engines in either 2-stroke, 2-stroke Semi-Direct Injection (SDI), or 4-stroke configuration with either fan or liquid cooling. They range is size from a 277cc single cylinder to a 1000cc twin. In general, the bigger the motor the more power you have available and the more fuel you’ll burn. Even a modest 500cc fan-cooled engine will propel most riders to 60-70MPH on level terrain and get outstanding fuel economy doing it. Big liquid-cooled motors produce a higher top end speed if geared properly, and provide a larger margin of power when needed. For a highly skilled rider, lots of power is a wonderful thing, but too much can get novices in trouble.

Number of Riders  One-up or two-up seats? If you plan to carry someone else on the machine, you need a place for them to sit comfortably and safely. Touring and Skandic models have two-up seats. Most others can be retrofitted if desired, though a long track suspension supports two riders better than a short track. If you’re going to ride two-up most of the time, get a machine designed for that purpose.

Chuck, Robyn, & Kaytie

Type of Suspension  Stiff “racing” suspension, or one for cruising? Depends on your style. Stiffer is not always better. What you want is a suspension with components that deliver a comfortable and competent ride at the velocities you normally travel. While an “X-level” suspension may have a high brag factor and work well at high speeds, it’s probably going to be stiff and hard if you spend most of your time at moderate speeds. Some of the newest equipment has intelligent “variable rate” shocks that give you a great ride over an even broader range of riding speeds.

Coupled versus Conventional Suspensions One of the biggest improvements in snowmachines in the last few years has been in suspensions, both in shocks and in the move from conventional to coupled rear suspensions. The major difference is what it feels like when you go over a bump.

With a conventional rear suspension, as you hit a bump with the front part of the rear suspension that part compresses; then as you move ahead the rear part compresses. What you feel is an angular kick in the spine. With a coupled rear suspension, when the front of the rear suspension hits the bump the whole suspension compresses together, parallel to the snow. What you feel is a vertical bump that is much easier on the spine and keeps you in much better control of the machine. The harder you ride the more you’ll appreciate a coupled suspension. In the past you had to go to after-market companies (like Fast, Inc. with their M-10) for a top-level rear suspension. Not any more! Ski-Doo’s SC-10III is outstanding.

So do you have to have a machine with a coupled rear end? No. Most of the modestly powered sleds, and all Summits, have conventional rear suspensions that work very well. They just won’t give you the comfort level over bumps or permit you to ride at as high a velocity over rough terrain. Different sleds for different purposes.

Know What Your Friends Ride If you’re going to spend a lot of time riding in a group it’s a good idea to choose a similar type of machine to what the others ride. If they’re all on short tracks, you’re getting a Summit Highmark will probably put you at a disadvantage. Likewise if they all ride long tracks and you pick a bump sled – with the probable exception that if you get an MXZ Rev with a decent track you’ll be able to go just about anywhere you want. If you’re just starting out, pick your power wisely. It’s good to have enough so you can keep up and you won’t outgrow it right away, but bigger is not always better.

Accessories  Ski-Doos, unlike some other makes, are exceptionally well-equipped machines right out of the crate, and you really don’t need to hot-rod them to achieve a very high level of performance. I’ll go so far as to say that if you make significant changes there’s a good chance you’ll detract rather than add to the sled’s effectiveness and/or efficiency. That’s not to discourage personalizing a machine for looks, convenience, or even performance. Common items include cover, luggage rack, skid plate for belly pan protection, electric start, and perhaps special skis or ski skins. The choices are limitless. See your salesman or friendly parts consultant for ideas.


AMDS has a highly competent staff of factory-trained technicians to help you keep your sled in top running order. There are also things you can and should do to help your machine run better and last longer.

Pay attention to how it’s running. If something doesn’t sound or feel right, check it out. Don’t continue to operate it for a long period of time with something obviously wrong or going wrong.

Read you owner’s manual. Never let the injection oil get low or run out. Keep the moving parts greased. For liquid cooled models, ensure there is adequate coolant at all times. Keep the machine clean, treat it well, and it will serve you with distinction for a long time.

Courtesy and Safety  Snowmachining tends to be a visible sport. As popular as it is, there are some who don’t appreciate your and your machine’s presence. Do your best to be considerate of others and present yourself in the best light by respecting private property. Don’t break the law. Do what you can to advance the sport in the eyes of all who observe you riding. The more ambassadors we have the better for all.

Snowmachines are large and powerful, and improperly operated can seriously hurt of kill you. Don’t let that happen. Be alert; think ahead; don’t ride faster than conditions permit; and always give yourself enough space to maneuver out of harm’s way if necessary. Always wear a helmet, eye protection, and proper clothing to keep you warm and dry. Remember, Alaska is the kind of place in which it doesn’t take much to create a real survival situation. Be prepared and you’ll have a lot more fun.

Image Copyright 1999 by Chuck Maas

Other resources  Rather than reinvent the wheel, check out these information sources:

Alaska State Snowmobile Association. Low cost active organization working hard to represent you. Their winter publication, the Alaskan Snow Rider, is worth the $10 membership fee, with timely information about what’s going on during the season. Visit their website at

Ride Alaska, 2001-2002 Snowmachiner’s Guide. Brand new annual magazine from the Alaska State Snowmobile Association that’s packed with info, including maps of the best nearby riding areas. Slick, high quality, publication you’ll want to have.

Snowmobile Adventures in Alaska, by Margie and Rich Runser. This is one of the best available compilations on how, when, and where to ride. Both novice and expert can learn from this excellent book. You can find this book online at Miscellaneous Books

About AMDS  Alaska Mining & Diving Supply has been in business since 1976 providing the best in outdoor power products to a growing customer base. We are the largest Ski-Doo dealership in the world and take great pride in top quality sales and service of the best line of snowmobiles available today. Thanks for shopping with us. We value your business.

~ Chuck Maas - AMDS Sales Manager

Chuck Maas on "Perfect Sled"
Chuck Maas on his "Perfect Sled"

See Chuck's Article on the "Perfect Sled"!


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