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The industry’s annual Snow Shoot event, a ride evaluation and photo/video opportunity for snowmobile media, is coming up in just a little over a week. Given the seasonality of the sport, the event features next year’s models (2025) from all the manufacturers. I attended my first Snow Shoot in the spring of 1993, and I’ve attended nearly all of them since, either as a journalist or as an event manager for a manufacturer. This year I’ll be going back to Snow Shoot to gather more information and ride evaluations on the new Arctic Cat models and also capture a few  interviews with Cat engineers and staff. 

As I was making mental preparations for the trip, I wanted to ground myself on my impressions of the new Catalyst platform thus far. Some of you may recall Kale Wainer and myself were fortunate to have three Catalyst models last winter, a ZR 129, ZR 137, and a RIOT 146. In total I logged close to 700 miles last winter on a combination of those three sleds and came away thoroughly impressed. Here are my impressions from those rides.

The moment we’ve all been eagerly awaiting finally arrived for Cat faithful this winter, when Arctic officially announced the 858 Catalyst. If its any bit as good as the 600, it will be a home run.

RIDER UPRIGHT ERGONOMICS – At 6-2 I feel the ergonomics of the new platform are nearly spot-on. Obviously ergonomics can be a fickle thing and the challenge for a manufacturer to make a snowmobile “fit” everybody is virtually impossible, so you aim for the middle. While “old school” riders may view the trend towards narrower and narrower cockpits with a furrowed brow, once you adapt your riding style to the new rider-upright platform, you’ll never look back. There also has been plenty of “talk” about the Catalyst seat…however I never found the seat to be too narrow, too hard, or too short. But here’s the thing…if you ride the Catalyst in the same manner you did a Twin Spar for example, you will likely look at the seat with some loathing. Rider upright platforms, which the Catalyst is in spades, respond best and feel best when you ride with a slight “attack” position. This doesn’t mean you have to be an aggressive rider – not at all. But an extended arm, slouched riding position will not be rewarded with the same level of comfort or control. It doesn’t take much either. So the next time you throw a leg over a Catalyst or you get your first chance to ride one, be cognizant of your riding position for the most positive results.

Having Kale (the previous caretaker of this site) and Tom Rowland, owner of Thomas Sno Sports as friends has its benefits beyond smoked meet and roller dogs. We had the chance to log a lot of miles on three varieties of the 600 Catalyst last winter.

ALMOST POWERED STEERING – Once you get past that new car smell of the Catalyst platform, the thing you will likely notice first is the incredibly light steering effort. The rack system delivers a buttery smooth, linear, and near effortless steering feel. On several rides we also had a new northern Minnesota competitor 600-class sled along, as well as ProCross models, the difference in effort was significant when switching between sleds. The effortless feel is also two-fold, as the geometry works to eliminate bump steer and as a result the system has very little negative feedback to the bars, making it less fatiguing during long days in the saddle. With the 858 engine package weighing slightly less than the 600 C-TEC2, this same “power steering” should be found in big-bore Catalyst models as well. 

A LESSON IN NEUTRALITY – If there was one big takeaway I had from last winter, regardless of which of the three Catalyst platform sleds I was piloting, was how neutral the sled felt. The sled is incredibly well balanced, both in terms of driver input in all four directions and handling. Whereas some sleds feel too “playful” forcing you to adjust more in order to have the sled respond, especially when cornering. Others may feel too “planted”, like a block of cement on snow. The Catalyst is this perfect middle ground – with playful characteristics when you want it, and railing the corners when you need to gap your buddy behind you. Never did I find myself over-steering or counter-steering coming in to or exiting a corner.

Midwest boondocking it one of my favorite types of riding period. The far northern reaches of Minnesota has ample opportunities to ride off-trail so I took a particular liking to the RIOT. While I didn’t get a chance to truly run the sled off-trail last winter, I found the on-trail manners to be on par with our trail focused Catalyst buggies.

MOD SLED IN DISGUISE – While my frame is on the “bigger” side of average, the Catalyst feels compact in nature for just about any rider, yet never did I feel cramped on the sled. If you’ve ever driven a mod sled, one of the first things you’ll notice is how light and minimalist the sled feels. I found the Catalyst to exhibit a similar feel, but with all the refinement, comfort, and quietness of a factory production snowmobile. The compact, weight saving design of the Catalyst is something that appears not only on the spec sheet, but more importantly it’s something you immediately feel while riding it. If the 600 felt like this, the big bore 858 should only amplify those postive attributes. 

Every ride I took last winter, the Catalyst just got better. I can honestly say its one of the few new buggies in the last 10-years years I have been truly excited about…after the shiny new feeling dissipated.

AN EVEN BIGGER FUTURE – With Arctic Cat already performing demo ride opportunities with the new 858 Catalyst, many curious riders have already taken a short burn on the new buggy. First impressions are a wonderful thing, but having a chance to log some real miles on the new combination – which I hope to do in the coming weeks, should give us a clearer picture. The 600, in my opinion, is one of the most well balanced packages in terms of power, response, handling, and overall ride quality I’ve ever experienced (and I’ve ridden just about every new model sled built since the mid-90s). If the 858 can duplicate those traits with the added punch of more power – we all will be smiling. 

If you’ve had a chance to ride either the 600 or the 858 Catalyst let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Also, if you have questions for me or Arctic Cat, drop them below as well. I’ll have face-to-face time with members of the engineering team while in Montana and I’ll work to get more insight for you. – Pat



  1. Ordered a ZR 858 Sno Pro for next year.. super pumped! Couple things I wonder is-

    -Will they bring back the twin rail option for mountain sleds? Seems that’s a big reason why riders aren’t coming back or switching to Cat for the mountains.
    -The new guy for Cat’s snow side said they’re aiming to get more dealer support, does that mean more dealers? Sucks to see so many closing or switching to used sales and repairs instead.
    -Are there more accessories coming for ‘25 like a gas caddy, oil tank, etc?

    • These are great questions, and I’d love to see a response.

      I think people don’t get the Alpha, mainly because they either haven’t tried it or they tried to ride it like a twin rail. On the other hand, whether it’s a matter of education or not, people clearly want a twin rail option. I think it would be worth their time to provide that for consumers. Maybe they just need to lengthen the Cross Action skid from the Riot.

    • Some of the cat guys did an interview with snowest and they asked about the the twin rail, and the cat guys said they’d be dumb not to look into that if a good amount of consumers prefer it. Alpha isn’t for every rider. Snowest though did say the alpha works much better with the catalyst than it does with the prior chassis.

      I’m also wondering about the gas/oil caddies. I’d guess the aftermarket will be on it if cat can’t get it done. It was supposed to be ready months ago but waiting on epa.

  2. Pat, can you find out what kind of fuel consumption the ZR 858 is experiencing out in the field, say compared to the current ctec 800 in zr trim? I have a zr858 137″ with atac on order. I know how far I can go with my ’20 zr8000 137″ with iact. My concern is with the smaller tank in the 858 my range will be reduced. I did have a chance to ride zr600 catalyst back in January and agree with your general observations above. Thanks, David

  3. Thanks Pat! I was able to test ride the new ZR 137″ 858 SP Saturday at ERX. I am absolutely blown away! Though the course was short, it did provide just enough room give a good squeeze. Crisp, light, plush. I was so impressed, that I gave Thomas Sno Sports a call yesterday to order the new M 858! I am so pumped! Bottom line? This is a VERY exciting time to be aN Arctic Cat loyalist!

    • Brandon – Did you see Tom there at ERX? I was in the first group after the dealers, and the guy ahead of me said hi to him right after I did. Obviously, a bunch of people know him, but it’d be a funny coincidence if that was you.

      It was a great time, and kudos to Arctic Cat for making it happen. Also, it’s not every day that you get to stand next to Troy Halvorson and ask him any question you want, and the people at ERX got to do just that. It’s cool that Troy was there and mingling with riders.

      Pat – someone on a forum asked about running boards. There’s some confusion about whether the aluminum boards are “standard” on some Catalyst models – the Cat web site says they’re standard on some models, but doesn’t say whether those are ProCross or Catalyst platforms.

      Is clutching going to change for 2025 over the 2024’s? I’m hearing reports – and have seen it myself – that the 600 ZR accelerates very well and hits 80 in an impressively short amount of time, but then drops off quickly. People seem to think that both primary and secondary clutches are to blame for that. Smart people over on ArcticChat are trying to figure it out, but have had limited opportunities to spend much time on actual snow.

      A lot of people online want to know whether they should order a 129 or 137 and nobody – including me – has been able to provide a good answer about the difference between the two. People ask about weight transfer without providing context, which makes their questions almost impossible to answer. But, if someone were able to provide a good executive-level summary of the pros and cons of each, I think that would be valuable.

      There are a few questions about the G8 display, but it seems fairly self-explanatory to anyone who’s familiar with GPS displays and competing offerings. The one question people have is what the antenna is for, and I’ve guessed publicly that this is the radio for the group ride functionality that’s only available in the US.

      The other question that nobody has been able to answer is about the AC5S shocks. There’s no information available publicly. I have asked several people who theoretically should know a lot more about them than I do, and the only response I’ve gotten is, “we don’t know any more than you do”. So, I think a write up on the AC5S shocks would be really good.

      As part of the Catalyst photo shoot last year, I’ve been enamored with the platform ever since. I agree with everything you said about riding position, the seat, steering and handling (those thoughts are on YouTube). One thing I didn’t notice out at Togwotee but did notice at ERX: The 129 handles super tight corners a lot easier than the 137. I’ve gotten used to the longer tracked sleds, and switching to the 129 at ERX, I was seriously impressed – much more fun. I’ve seen several stories about ladies taking their husband’s or boyfriend’s Catalyst and not wanting to give it back, and I’ll bet a lot of that is steering. Add to that the maneuverability and flat slot-car-like handling of the 129, and it would be hard to pry the sled away from just about any trail rider.

      Have fun during the photo shoot!

      • Bob, yes, that was me! In fact, I recognized your mug based off last season’s ordeal at Togwotee! What incredible machines, it’s going to be a long summer!

  4. Hey Pat!
    Got a ZR 858 129″ w/ ATAC on order. One thing I’ve read/seen repeatedly in media (and my personal experience also), is that setting 3 of the Fox QS3/iQS shocks that come on the the stock Cats is damn near unusable. I think AJ lester described them, negatively, to be suitable for a snocross track, which is a noteworthy observation considering he used to race Snocross. The jump from setting 2 to 3 is massive. Any chance Cat would address this for 2025? I can understand for the R-XC, but I’m thinking the diamond pounders would truly appreciate a more compliant setting 3. Just a thought.

    • Premium – Setting 3 may be unusable for some, but maybe not all. I think of riding with Kale, who is built like Sasquatch, He ran setting 3 quite often on his 129 ATAC for our hard charging trail rides.

      • I suppose that’s exactly my point. If our favorite Sasquatch is one of the few that can use setting 3, and mostly when hard charging, maybe the setting affords too much compression damping for the average rider buying a trail oriented sled. We have stats for average snowmobiler age…but not weight (unfortunately!?).

        Anyway, looking forward to reading your snow shoot observations!

        • Well now with AC5S, maybe you will find your sweet spot. I set my rebound to 12 (average setting of standard shock package) on my RR and never looked back.

  5. I have limited time on my Catalyst due to the poor winter, but I think it is a complete game changer especially for the off trail. I love the small compact size, feels like I have more ability to manipulate the machine. I’ve thought snowmobiles were getting physically too large and bulky for a while now, the catalyst direction was appreciated here.

  6. Great article Pat. Looking forward to more in the future.

    AJ and Luke Lester posted a video shootout of the Polaris 650 Indy XCR 128, Ski-Doo MXZ X-RS 600R, and Arctic Cat CATALYST ZR 600 on the Supertrax website.

    The Polaris took top honors overall. The Catalyst came in second, the Ski Doo third.
    The Catalyst got gigged on fit & finish / quality (yeah, I know to some out there it doesn’t matter but given how much sleds cost these days, I want it all), dated rear suspension, and to a lesser degree the front suspension.
    For once it would be nice to see a Cat declared the undisputed winner. Like the Red Sox, maybe next year….

    • They did compare the production Doo and Poo to a Pre-Production sled btw, that makes a heck of a difference. My Production built sled has great fit and finish. All I have been able to admire since there is no snow to ride it.

      • Ski Doo’s fit and finish is the standard by which all others are compared.
        The Catalyst is heads and tails better than prior years models but still has a long way to go in my opinion as far as attention to detail and fit / finish go.

        • It’s been that way for decades. I remember Ski Doo guys giving me a hard time about fit and finish in the late 80’s.

          Jim, I agree – I’m pretty darn happy with the build quality of my Catalyst.

          • Agree the fit / finish is better than prior sleds.
            But given the money consumers are being asked to shell out, why settle for third out of three. Shouldn’t we expect / demand best in class?
            Cat’s design engineers and manufacturing engineers are not able to provide best in class?

    • I’ve haven’t had a chance to read the full article but I’d be curious to know what a “dated” suspension feels like. The “age” of a suspension (at least in terms of how modern it is perceived to be) has little to do with how a suspension feels. After all, isn’t that the purpose of a suspension?

      • I’m probably putting words in their mouths but dated in that no significant changes in geometry or performance in a very long time. All of the snomo rags, Supertrax in particular, have been critical about the harshness of Cat’s rear suspension while Ski Doo’s eats up the moguls and provides a plush ride under all trail conditions.

        They say imitation is the purest form of flattery- the 2025 Ski Doos were just unveiled and at least some of the sleds have a revised front suspension with super wide spacing, possibly even more than Cat’s current geometry. In the 2024 shootout video, Ski Doo’s front end was ranked third out of the three mfrs; will be interesting to see if the geometry mods changes the Lesters’ overall ranking for 2025.

  7. You mentioned the “power steering”. You really don’t notice it till you get on a different sled. I went with my dad on the last day we had snow. Made him ride my Catalyst Riot He was a little nervous because he didn’t like his narrower front end on his 2018 Highcountry. Which he said he never noticed. But he did notice the “power steering”. And the Good power of the 600. On the other hand I got instant arm pump, riding his 2021 Riot ! Thinking his 2021 is going down the road now .

  8. I now have about 550 miles on my ZR 137 IFP sled. 225 in the last two days and the rest in three days in January. (That how lousy a season it’s been) Anyway, I will state that I do not agree with the seat explanation. Granted, I’m 64 years old, but I have been riding sleds since ’72 and bikes since ’74. The seat foam is too firm. At the conclusion of this season I will be taking the seat to a local auto trim shop to see if they can add 2″ of softer foam as a sort of “Pillow top” to the existing foam. I do not want or need to raise the seat height at all. What I do want is for my butt to sink into softer foam when I sit down. When I spend more than15k for a sled, I should not have to go through this B.S. to make the sled comfortable.

    • The struggle with “seat foam comfort” has been a battle every manufacture struggles with year, after year. I can tell you from experience every OEM deals with this “Goldilocks” conundrum. Its’ simply very difficult to arrive at a foam density,softness and shape that works for everyone. I’ll check next week if there might be some options in the works.

  9. I have around 540 miles on my 600RXC and I absolutely love the sled. Not really any major complaints from me. Absolutely feels more powerful than my previous 600 sleds combined with lighter weight and reduced steering effort I notice less fatigue compared to riding my Riot 8000. ECM programming is also much better than any of my previous 800 and 600 sleds, no odd hiccups or hesitations and the annoying hanging idle after long pulls is gone! I do question the longevity of the painted plastic pieces as it is already chipping around the pull handle. My brother will be taking my 600RXC next season since I ordered an 858RXC. Wish we had better snow this year in the Northeast but it is what it is. Hoping for a few more rides!

  10. Can you also asked Arctic Cat what is really different on the next gen EFI ? Injectors ? More map points? Also improvement’s to the drive clutch to handle the 858 like some hinted at last Sept at Hay days . Also after a first year production of the Catalyst they must have many little improvements? Last year talking to Racers, they said none of there shock packages from the Procross worked for the Catalyst, it was that different and they had to start over again. Yet some of the shocks on the Catalyst are the same part number as the Procross , which has to be a compromise setup? Will the second year production be valve better for the Catalyst? Thanks

  11. Reading the comments about the fit and finish of the Catalysts I guess I’d have to have the substandard areas pointed out to me as I don’t get it. I’ve honestly never inspected the other brand sleds closely as I usually go by them pretty quick. 😉 IMO Cat has the best looking words on the market and that’s more important than fit and finish.

    • The problem, I suspect, would be mounting it. The display is expensive to start with, and then you’d have to fabricate your own mount, and it doesn’t seem like it would be a good idea, even if it were possible.

      There is an aftermarket company making a display that includes mounting hardware for something like half what you’d spend on a G8, and it fits already (the NS1). The other option is a Tread, because Arctic Cat makes an official mount for it. Either of those would be cheaper and fit better than trying to put a G8 on a ProCross.


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