A mountain snowmobile is a purpose-built sled specially designed for use in deep snow and steep terrain. These off-trail snowmobiles feature 136”-175” long tracks with deep 2”-3” lugs, a lightweight chassis, a narrow ski stance, and many other special features. They are exclusively powered by liquid-cooled, 2-stroke 120-170 HP engines for the best power-to-weight ratio.
If you want to find out more about mountain snowmobiles, this post is for you. We at PowerSportsGuide have compiled all you need to know under one roof!
What Is a Mountain Snowmobile?
As the name suggests, mountain snowmobiles are designed for mountain riding. They have excellent maneuverability and hill-climbing abilities and can handle large changes in elevation. Their long track offers sufficient floatation, while the large lugs can even propel the machine on powdery snow. The main advantage of mountain sleds is that they can virtually go anywhere, so you are able to discover remote areas on them!
Therefore, contrary to popular belief, mountain snowmobiles are not slightly modified trail sleds with a long track. Instead, they are designed for this purpose from scratch and utilize many special features.
Although the idea of mountain snowmobiles had been around since the ‘70s, manufacturers only produced trail-specific snowmobiles until the early ‘90s. Why?
Simply put, the two main reasons were a lack of engine power and the carburetor issues resulting from significant changes in altitude.
Let’s face it, propelling long tracks and riding uphill requires a ton of engine power, and outdated vintage sleds didn’t provide adequate performance. They were typically powered by small displacement, fan, or air-cooled engines.
Another problem was the carburetors, which required jetting adjustments in accordance with changes in altitude. As you might assume, rejecting the carbs several times a day would have been neither convenient nor easy.
But Polaris changed the game in 1991 when it introduced its innovative EFI (electronic fuel injection) system on its snowmobiles.
EFI engines were more powerful and didn’t require any adjustments, making it possible for mountain snowmobiles to be born.
Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty and see what makes a mountain snowmobile a mountain snowmobile!
Mountain Snowmobile Features
Mountain Snowmobile Engines
As a rule of thumb, mountain snowmobiles are powered by liquid-cooled, 2-stroke engines. Thanks to their design, these lively power sources offer the best power-to-weight ratio available. The average mountain snowmobile engine is a 600-850cc twin that produces about 120-170 HP. Specific models like the Ski-Doo Summit 850 E-TEC Turbo come with turbocharged 2-stroke engines.
In the past, Yamaha and Arctic Cat released some 4-stroke mountain sleds, but because they were so heavy, they did not really become popular. These sleds utilized 1,000cc turbocharged engines that cranked out about 180-210 HP.
Because of this, today’s mountain sleds are exclusively manufactured with high-performance, 2-stroke engines.
The currently available engines for mountain sleds by brand are as follows:
- Polaris: 650cc, 850cc
- Ski-Doo: Rotax 600R E-TEC, 850 E-TEC, 800R E-TEC, 600 H.O. E-TEC
- Yamaha: 794cc, 397cc
- Arctic Cat: 794cc
If you are looking for a 4-stroke sled for off-trail use, you should consider a crossover model like the Yamaha Sidewinder X-TX LE powered by a turbocharged, 998cc, 4-stroke triple.
Mountain Snowmobile Chassis and Suspensions
To keep the weight of the machines down, mountain snowmobiles utilize a lightweight chassis and features. It’s safe to say that the first mountain snowmobile chassis was Ski-Doo’s REV platform introduced in 2003.
Mountain snowmobile platforms always feature a long tunnel to accommodate their long mountain tracks. The hidden advantage of the extended tunnel is that it offers a place for attaching a lot of accessories.
They can be attached to the top of the tunnel with regular straps or the innovative Ski-Doo LinQ attachment system.
Mountain sleds also come with unique suspension systems engineered explicitly for deep-snow conditions.
For better maneuverability, the ski stance of mountain snowmobiles is narrowed to 36-38 inches. In contrast, trail sleds typically feature a 42-43-inch ski stance.
Mountain Snowmobile Tracks
The key feature of mountain snowmobiles is their significantly longer tracks with deeper lugs. The majority of mountain snowmobile tracks are 153-175 inches long, 15-16 inches wide, and feature 2.5 to 3-inch deep lugs.
To be more specific, the most common track lengths of mountain snowmobiles are as follows:
- Short mountain tracks: 153,154,155 inches
- Average mountain tracks: 162,163,165 inches
- Long mountain tracks: 174,175 inches
The main idea behind these long tracks is to provide adequate floatation for the 500+ pound machine and its rider. With a short track, these sleds would sink much easier in deep snow.
Therefore, mountain tracks are longer and feature much deeper lugs that ensure sufficient traction even in powdery snow.
On the other hand, these large tracks make the sled significantly slower, as the longer the track, the more engine power is required to propel it.
Mountain Snowmobile Features
Besides these significant components, mountain snowmobiles come with many other unique features.
Surprisingly, they only share the bulkhead, the engine, and minor parts with their trail counterparts. Other features like the drive system, timing, clutching, skis, seat, and gauges are usually different.
They typically utilize unique steering systems with raised handlebars designed for stand-up riding. To handle changes in elevation, their engines use a unique altitude compensating system as well.
Another distinguishing feature of mountain sleds is a trimmed or removed snow flap.
Mountain Snowmobile Accessories
Finally, don’t forget that mountain riding requires special gear to prepare for unexpected situations. According to Snowmobile.com, the ten most important mountain snowmobile accessories are as follows:
- Navigation and communication devices (GPS, map, compass, PLB, flares, etc.)
- Tools, repair kit, shovel, and spare belt
- Extra clothing (spare mask, gloves, socks, mid-layer, emergency bivy)
- First-aid kit
- Fire (lighter, matches, fire starter kit)
- Food and drink
- Emergency shelter
- Avalanche gear
- Sun protection
Mountain Snowmobile Specs Chart
For your convenience, we’ve compiled the average specifications of mountain snowmobiles into one chart:
|Engine type||650-850cc 2 stroke|
|Top speed (mph)||80-90|
|Ski stance (in.)||36-38|
|Track length (in.)||153-175|
|Track width (in.)||15-16|
|Lug height (in.)||2.5-3|
|Front suspension travel (in.)||7-9|
|Rear suspension travel (in.)||9-15|
|Fuel cap. (gal)||9-12|
|Dry Weight (lbs.)||450-500|
Mountain Snowmobile Comparison Chart
Let’s compare mountain snowmobiles to other types of sleds by the numbers!
|Category||Youth (120)||Youth (200)||Mid-Sized||Trail||Performance||Crossover||Mountain||Touring||Utility|
|Engine type||120cc, 4-stroke single||200cc, 4-stroke single||300 -550cc 2-stroke||550 – 850cc 2-stroke or 600-1050cc 4-stroke||600 – 850cc 2-stroke or 900-1000cc 4-stroke||600 – 850cc 2-stroke or 900 -1000cc 4-stroke||650 – 850cc 2 stroke||400 -600cc 2 – stroke or 600 -1050cc 4 -stroke||540 – 850cc 2-stroke, or 600 -1050cc 4 -stroke|
|Top speed (mph)||8 (limited)||30 (limited)||50-65||65-110||100-120||90-110||80-90||60-110||50-70|
|Ski stance (in.)||27-31||31||32-39||38-43||42-44||40-44||36-38||39-43||35-38|
|Track length (in.)||67-69||93||121-146||121-137||129-137||141-153||153-175||137-155||135-154|
|Track width (in.)||10||10||15||14-15||15||15||15-16||15||20|
|Lug height (in.)||0.60-0.80||1.0||1.0-2.0||1-1.25||1.25-1.75||1.25-2.6||2.5-3||1.25-1.75||1.25-2.25|
|Front suspension travel (in.)||3-5||4-5||6-8||4-10||9-10||9-10||7-9||6-9||6-7|
|Rear suspension travel (in.)||5-7||8-9||11-15||9-16||13-16||13-14||9-15||10-15||9-11|
|Fuel cap. (gal)||0.45-0.5||2||9-12||10-12||9-12||9-16||9-12||9-13||11-15|
|Dry Weight (lbs.)||150-170||200||370-430||450-550||450-650||450-600||450-500||470-650||500-700|
Which Mountain Snowmobiles are the Best?
Experts agree that the best mountain snowmobiles are made by the “Big Four” (Ski-Doo, Polaris, Yamaha, and Arctic Cat). Let’s take a closer look at the currently available models!
Which Ski-Doo Mountain Sleds are the Best?
Ski-Doo is well known for its continuous innovation and large snowmobile fleet. The key advantages of mountain Ski-Doos are their revolutionary E-TEC engines, batteryless SHOT starting, and the practical LinQ attachment system.
Without further ado, the best Ski-Doo mountain sleds are as follows:
- Ski-Doo Summit X Expert
- Ski-Doo Summit X
- Ski-Doo Summit Edge
- Ski-Doo Summit SP
Which Polaris Mountain Sleds are the Best?
Polaris claims its RMK (Rocky Mountain King) series is the world’s best mountain sled.
Polaris RMK models are available both with 650cc and 850cc engines and 153”-165” tracks. Besides the full-sized models, we have to mention the RMK EVO, which is a youth sled turned into a mountain snowmobile.
Does Yamaha Make a Mountain Sled?
Yamaha also makes mountain sleds like the Mountain MAX and the SXVenom Mountain to the delight of fans.
The latter is powered by a 397cc twin that propels a 15” x 146” x 2“ Camso Challenger track. Yamaha’s high-end mountain sleds, the Mountain MAX family, are available with 794cc 2-stroke twin engines and 154”-165” tracks.
Which Arctic Cat Mountain Sleds are the Best?
The best Arctic Cat mountain sleds on the market are the M Hardcore Alpha One and the M Mountain Cat Alpha One. These sleds borrowed the 794cc twin from Yamaha and utilize 146”, 154”, or 165” tracks depending on the model.
Who Made the First Mountain Snowmobile?
As reported by SnowGoer, the world’s first mountain snowmobile was the 1971 Shark built by Floyd Brueshoff. This vintage mountain sled came with a lightweight chassis, low center of gravity, and an 18-inch wide track. The early models were manufactured by Shark Manufacturing, Inc. in Denver, Colorado. But when it comes to modern sleds, many riders say that the first purpose-built mountain sled was the 1994 Ski-Doo Summit.
Others argue for Polaris, which released the SKS (Snow King Special) in 1992 while the Arctic Cat’s EXT series hit the market in 1990.
As you can guess, Polaris fans consider the SKS the world’s first mountain sled, while Arctic Cat owners say that the EXT was the first. What is the truth?
Let’s make it clear, although the Cat’s EXT and Polaris’ SKS series both debuted before the Ski-Doo Summit, these sleds were virtually trail-specific sleds with a long track. Although they were intended for mountain rides, they were not specifically engineered for this purpose.
In contrast, the 1994 Ski-Doo Summit was built on the all-new mountain-specific REV framework platform. Therefore, this sled is considered the first modern mountain snowmobile.
Which Mountain Sled is Good for Beginners?
As stated in SuperTraxMag, the best beginner mountain sleds come with shorter, 154-inch tracks. Anything longer would make the learning process harder. The general rule is that the longer the track, the harder it is to maneuver the sled in powder. As an example, the Yamaha SXVenom Mountain is considered a great beginner mountain snowmobile.
Thanks to its lightweight mid-sized chassis and 397cc engine, it’s easy to ride in powder and dig out if it gets stuck.
Which Mountain Sled is the Most Reliable?
The most reliable mountain sleds are arguably 4-stroke models like the Yamaha FX Nytro MTX and the Arctic Cat M 9000.
Unfortunately, these models are not manufactured anymore, meaning that you can only choose from used models. Your other option is to consider a 4-stroke crossover sled. When it comes to 2-stroke models, the Polaris RMK and the Ski-Doo Summit are also known for their reliability.
Can You Use a Mountain Sled on Trails?
Although it is possible to ride a mountain sled on trails, it is not recommended in the long run. Why? First, the long tracks with deep lugs can ruin the trails causing many headaches for other riders. In return, hard-packed surfaces can damage the hyfax and the large lugs since they are not designed for such conditions.
What’s more, mountain sleds offer less enjoyable rides on trails than their trail-specific brothers.
Sure, sometimes mountain riders have to use the trail network to get to the woods. That’s completely fine, but riding primarily on groomed trails is another story.
The general rule is that lugs that are deeper than 1.75 inches are not recommended for trail use as they can cause trail damage.
So, if you are looking for a sled for mixed-use (both trail and off-trail), then it’s recommended that you purchase a crossover sled and get the best of both worlds!
Takeaways – FAQs about Mountain Snowmobiles
As a takeaway, we’ve compiled the most frequent questions about these sleds under one roof!
What are mountain snowmobiles?
Mountain snowmobiles are specifically designed to deal with the high elevation changes, mountainous terrain, and deep snow. They utilize a lightweight chassis and powerful 2-stroke engines that deliver about 120-180 HP. For the best traction and flotation, mountain sleds are propelled by long, 135-175-inch tracks that feature 2.5-3-inch deep lugs.
They also come with longer skis with a narrowed ski stance and raised handlebars for a comfortable stand-up riding position.
Besides these key components, other parts of these sleds are also engineered for mountain use. This is why mountain snowmobiles are so expensive!
What kind of engine is in a mountain snowmobile?
Mountain snowmobiles are powered by 650-850cc 2-stroke engines, and the performance of some flagship models is boosted with a turbocharger.
How much horsepower does a mountain snowmobile have?
Thanks to their lively 2-stroke power sources, mountain snowmobiles have about 120-170 HP depending on the make and model.
How fast can a mountain snowmobile go?
Generally speaking, mountain snowmobiles can go as fast as 80-90 mph on hard-packed surfaces. It’s good to know that these machines are tuned to maintaining track speed, which is much more important than faster speeds. Also, the long tracks rob a great deal of engine power, which is why the top speed of mountain snowmobiles is significantly lower than their trail-specific brothers.
How much does a mountain snowmobile weigh?
Thanks to their purpose-built lightweight chassis and features, the dry weight of mountain snowmobiles ranges from 450 to 500 pounds.
What size is a mountain snowmobile?
Mountain snowmobiles are typically 125-170 inches long, 42-45 inches wide, and 50-55 inches high. For better maneuverability, they come with a narrower, 38-36-inch ski stance.
What is the track size of a mountain snowmobile?
Mountain snowmobile tracks are typically 153-175 inches long, 15-16 inches wide, and feature 2.5-3-inch deep lugs.