Two weeks ago I OWNED a piece of the backcountry for the first time in my riding career.
When I say “owned” I mean I carved, climbed and threaded my way through the trees and sidehills like I was an amalgamation of Brett Turcotte, Dave McClure and Rob Kincaid, only better looking.
The difference between this day in the trees and any other time I’ve ridden in the backcountry over the past 15 years?
This time I was on the Arctic Cat SVX 450 snow bike.
No exaggeration, the 2-3 hours I spent on the SVX in Island Park constitute a Top-5 snowmobile experience of a lifetime. If the interview portion of the above interview had occurred 30 minutes after what you see here, you would have heard me gushing in hyper-fast adjectives about how amazing all of it was.
The reason was because I could do ANYTHING I wanted and go ANYWHERE I chose. And with Total. Complete. Confidence.
That’s not something I’ve ever felt on a regular mountain sled. Sure, I’m decent and confident carving fresh snow in a wide-open meadow. And probably to a bystander I look OK, not a complete goon. But put me on a steep sidehill with some trees, and my confidence level drops faster than gloves during an NHL fight.
It’s not that I can’t carve or thread the trees; it’s just that I can’t do it with perfect precision. Or consistently. So when there’s no room for error and I have to make it stick, I get scared (about getting terribly stuck, wrecking a sled, or both) and it stops being fun.
On the SVX, I was carving perfect, predictable turns before the engine had warmed up. Thirty minutes later, I was carving through trees just a few feet apart on a damn-steep hill (the video doesn’t do it justice). Literally point it where I wanted to go, and it did it.
Situation getting hairy and the pucker-factor getting too high? Simply downshift and putt along at walking speed. In the snow I ran through that day, I could stop/start at will, which meant I could ride up to an area; stop; give a long survey of what’s in front of me; and then take off into it. I can’t do that on a regular sled.
Riding with total confidence in the backcountry was transformative for me. It was as much fun as anything I’ve experienced on a snowmobile. Heck, it might be a top-3 lifetime snowmobile experience. If I were to make any sort of habit of riding backcountry, be it in the mountains or wherever, there’s no question that I would choose this snow bike over a regular sled.
Was everything perfect about it? Nope.
What’s not perfect about the snow bike is riding icy trails to get to the backcountry. That’s a little sketchy (but far easier on this than the aftermarket kitted bike I rode a year ago). It’s not a deal-breaker, but it’s definitely a not a good ol’-take-it-easy-sort-of experience. Coming back to the shop from the mountains, I avoided the trails entirely by riding the trees, which was totally fun and enjoyable and exactly what I’ll do whenever I ride SVXs in the future.
I would also say that more power would be better. The stock 450 Sherco engine on the SVX had good power for me, but a little more power would have been better. Kale, my cohort that day, probably weighs 75 lbs. more than me, and he probably had a stronger desire for more power.
Kale also experienced a situation where, while threading through a creek bed with steep side hills, the snow pushed the shift lever from 1st into neutral, which promptly put him on his side and in an awkward stuck position (for his body, not the bike). The good news about that incident was just after he’d burned every last bit of energy to eventually succeed in getting himself extricate, Bart and I rolled up just in time to see him deliver an incredible helmet throw that put him in contention for a Cy Young.
I digress. The point is, it’s possible to hit the exposed shift lever on snow and get an unwanted surprise.
The last piece of imperfection at this moment in time is, we still don’t know a lot of key information about the SVX 450. Such as when it will be available (and for how much)?
Making this a true snowmobile (as opposed to a kit) is more complicated and has taken more time than Arctic Cat originally expected. Requirements like achieving required sound levels, passing the evaporation test with the fuel tank and hitting the emissions targets (using a test that was designed for regular snowmobile engines operating at more static RPM via CVT system, rather than a dirt bike engine meant for short bursts and a manual transmission) have thrown a few wrinkles into an otherwise excellent program.
So yes, these and a few other factors have pushed back the timeframe for when Arctic Cat will give everyone the full announcement on this machine.
When they do, you’ll read it here. In the meantime, I’m singing the praises of this totally fun, laugh-riot of a snowmobile.
Backcountry pro? I felt like one!
Thanks for reading.