Full Season Test: 2011 Polaris 600 Switchback
Versatility is a driving force of why crossover snowmobiles like the Polaris 600 Switchback are popular. You can ride the groomed trails all day with steady handling, and then hit a legal, snowed-in backcountry shortcut to bring you home in the evening and skip the whooped-out trails. Surely, riders give up a little bit in terms of on-trail handling in order to gain off-trail ability, but crossover snowmobiles are trail sleds at their core so they handle better than mountain sleds.
Like most IQ-based Polaris snowmobiles we’ve ridden over the years, our 2011 Polaris 600 Switchback demo snowmobile was a good trail sled that drove through corners in a consistent manner without surprising us by errantly or violently raising the inside ski. It turned flat and inspired confidence. It was a good sled for our Midwest, backcountry snowmobiling adventures, too.
Where a rider on a 144-inch or longer mountain sled would have an unfair advantage when playing in 2 feet of powder snow near sea level, the 136-inch Switchback and its driver has to work harder to claw through deep snow — and that’s what makes it fun. That hard work would quickly get old in the mountain West where snow is deeper and climbs are steeper, but for exploring Minnesota, Michigan and parts out East where engines make full power, a crossover snowmobile like the Polaris Switchback is more capable than a standard 121-inch sled to meet backwoods challenges head on while not being the gun at a knife fight.
During four consecutive model years after its introduction in 2005, Polaris engineers updated the IQ front suspension: 2006 brought a new spindle for sharper steering and reduced push; 2007 brought a revised ski for less steering effort; there were new spindles again in 2008, also to reduce steering effort; and 2009 brought longer bottom A-arms and lighter spindles. Even after making all of these changes, our Switchback took more strength and effort to turn than the other sleds in our fleet.
Through the evolution, the IQ front suspension was always the industry’s best for isolating riders from chopped-out trails and big bumps, and our Polaris 600 Switchback was no exception. It was forgiving if we took the wrong line or landed a jump off camber, and the machine felt tight and stable. The longer rear suspension adds to the stability, especially through small, high-speed bumps and rutted sections.
Fit and finish has never been a strong point of Polaris snowmobiles, and while the later IQs are considerably better than the chassis’ first few years after the nose and fuel tank were redesigned in 2009, there’s room for improvement. Side panel fitment varies from machine to machine and some materials look and feel cheap.
The tall, firm and narrow seat is well suited for active riding because riders can move from side to side without interference, and the flat handlebar keeps the shoulders, arms and elbows up for more strength and less fatigue. The stock center grab strap was made of hard rubber. After bumping our helmets against it a few times, we replaced it with a better one from the aftermarket that’s more flexible and easily adjustable.
With the Pro-Ride chassis filling most of the Polaris snowmobile lineup in 2012 and pushing the IQ to the support classes, the chassis might be in its last season. But if you’re in the market for a crossover sled, a 2011 Switchback — or the identical 2010 Switchback Dragon — is worth considering.
2011 Polaris 600 Switchback / $10,199
Modifications: Frogzskin vent covers; Powder Keg storage box; Rox Speed FX Snake Strap; Sportech Deuce hand guards
Average MPG: 12.21