To say that we take our Snow Goer Snowmobile of the Year decision seriously would be a massive understatement. As much as some like to make wisecracks on message boards or at sledding events about “whose turn” it is, which manufacturer spent the most on ads or speculate that we pick a winner out of a hat, the decision is often rather painstaking.
Not every year, certainly. Sometimes, one sled comes along with new technology and a big buzz factor, and it’s obvious early on that it has the “it factor.” The 1995 Polaris Indy XLT Special that brought modern long travel suspension to the mass market was one such example. Other years, we face the opposite dilemma. There have certainly been years when, frankly, there’s not a lot new in the market, and we have to choose the best of what’s available. The 2002 Ski-Doo MX Z 800 was such a selection — a nice snowmobile, but not a technological wonder or a benchmark snowmobile.
This year, we were in the middle of those extremes. Our nomination process quickly narrowed the field to three finalists: The Arctic Cat ZR 6000 El Tigré, the Ski-Doo GSX LE ACE 900 and the Yamaha SR Viper RTX SE (or its sister machine, the Arctic Cat ZR 7000, which leads to more complications). An argument can be made for each snowmobile, as each one offers something new for 2014. But there are counter arguments as well.
Let me take you “into the room,” so to speak.
Certainly the new Dual Stage Injection engine in the Cat is noteworthy, and it being Cat’s first domestic snowmobile engine really doubles down on that case. The counter argument: This engine finally gets Cat into the clean-burning two-stroke game in which others have been playing for a decade, and it’s placed in the ProCross chassis, which we already honored with the 2012 Snowmobile of the Year: the F 1100 Turbo Sno Pro.
Yamaha’s new SR Viper is certainly attention grabbing, and it created an unrivaled buzz at the 2014 preview shows last spring (more than the ZR 7000, for some reason). The counter argument: It merely combines that previously honored ProCross design with an already known engine. The business arrangement between Cat and Yamaha is interesting, as are the pledges of new Yamaha chassis in the future. But our award isn’t based on big business or promises of future product.
The ACE 900 engine in the Ski-Doo is undoubtedly the most high-tech innovation for 2014, with its multiple modes, throttle-by-wire system and excellent fuel economy. The counter argument: Is throttle-by-wire really the future, and what’s the current market appeal for a 90 hp four-stroke?
These points and counterpoints led to seemingly endless debates; just when it seemed like we were headed in one direction, somebody would make an impassioned speech and the direction would shift.
In the end, our decision was based on the record of the marketshare leader that isn’t afraid to take risks and never rests on its laurels. Yes, the award honors the ACE 900 engine and its new-to-sport technology. But the decision was also influenced by the inclusion of the best rear suspension this sport has ever seen and the latest iteration of a chassis design that’s still an industry benchmark.
And, it’s a reflection upon a company in BRP that doesn’t wait to be forced into change, but drives innovation and change itself. No outside rules said there had to be superefficient four-strokes built, and the demand for family oriented sleds with high-tech features like learning keys may not be as high as some
other segments of the market. But Ski-Doo is building them anyway, because having cleanrunning sleds that could attract newcomers or keep families in the sport is important on a more macro level.
That’s what a leader is supposed to do: Lead. And that’s worth being honored with our 2014 Snow Goer Snowmobile of the Year selection.