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Ski-Doo's Latest Snowmobiles Make Riding Easy, If You Have the Right Gear

Take it from someone who knows: it's incredibly fun, but only if you can see.

ski doo mountain sled 2023

Snowmobiles are a type of vehicle we don't cover much at Gear Patrol. That's not because of any slight against them, however. In the cold, winter months, when the white stuff runs deep and the thought of climbing aboard a motorcycle or dirt bike seems like insanity, "snow machines" (as many a rider calls them) offer a way to escape civilization and travel off to parts unknown, to see those cold, remote places that feel so removed from humanity as to come from another time. (Or, simply, to blast along at a mile a minute with your buddies.)

They're very much in our wheelhouse, and likely the sort of machine you've fantasized about taking for a spin, as we have. It's just that the opportunities are likely few and far between. So when the chance came in from the folks at Ski-Doo to pop out to West Yellowstone, Montana to test out some of their newest snow machines in their native element, well, your humble writer felt obliged to give it a try...even though he'd only ridden snowmobiles a handful of times in the past.

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Turbo power turns a snowmobile into a speeder bike
2023 ski doo
Will Sabel Courtney

I had the chance to ride two of Ski-Doo's 2023 trail sleds: the MXZ Sport 600 R and the Renegade X-RS 900 Ace Turbo R. The MXZ I rode first packs a two-cylinder, two-stroke 600-cc engine that puts out 126 horsepower. Considering a snowmobile weighs in at just a little over 400 pounds without a rider, that seemed like plenty in the abstract. It felt like plenty on that inaugural ride out, too.

Then I tried the Renegade, and realized...hoo boy, was I wrong.

See, that "turbo" in the name means what it says: the 900-cc twin-cylinder four-stroke engine benefits from a turbocharger forcing air into its maw. Between the added displacement and the forced induction, it spits out 180 horsepower — and, while the naturally aspirated 600-cc motor is down to about 100 ponies at the 6,667-ft altitude of West Yellowstone, the turbo model is rated to hold that all the way up to 8,000 feet.

The result: what might be the most fun you can have on a vehicle with treads in the back. At least, assuming you enjoy a face-full of g-forces when you peg a throttle. At full blast, the turbo Renegade blitzes from a stop to highway speed at a pace that feels every bit up there with many a super sport car — but of course, you're out there in the cold air, feeling the speed. It's a giddy, grin-inducing sensation that leaves you feeling the way your 12-year-old self imagined you'd feel if you ever got one of those speeder bikes from Return of the Jedi.

The Renegade also packs optional three-mode adaptive dampers, much like many a fancy car — but unlike those fancy cars, it's obvious which mode you're in. After sampling the sporty modes, I wound up leaving it in comfort to spare my chilly hands a bit of vibration on the ride back; the variance between the levels gives it a utility that makes it feel worthwhile.

Ski-Doo's 2023 lineup centers around a revised platform
2023 ski doo models
Will Sabel Courtney

For the 2023 model year, some of Ski-Doo's new snowmobiles use what the brand is calling its Gen5 platform. It's actually a heavily updated version of the previous Gen4 platform, but don't let that put you off. By working on enhancing the existing setup by doing things like adding “a new engine cradle that dampens noise and vibration,” the brand managed to refine the ride and overall experience of its machines to an impressive level that'll leave anyone who hasn't been on a snow machine in a while (like yours truly).

Of course, the models that still use the older chassis aren't exactly torture machines, at least by the standards of past snowmobiles. Riding is still a more physically demanding experience than you expect at first — not only do you have to lean into turns like a motorcycle, but because it's so planted and wide, you basically need to shuffle your entire torso over, which means you're basically rising up off your butt and plopping back down for every tight turn — but these snow machines didn't leave me feeling exhausted the way I've felt after past rides.

Electronic updates are also a big part of the 2023 upgrades, at least for some models. The MXZ I sampled first had a pretty basic Casio G-Shock-style black-and gray LCD display, which, I thought at first, seemed fine — until I tried the Renegade X-RS 900 and its full-color 7.8-in display, which offers way more information in much more clear fashion. And that's not even the best display offered in the 2023 models: the Renegade 850 (which is fully upgraded to the Gen5 architecture) packs a touchscreen 10.25-in instrument panel that can even mirror your smartphone if it's running the BRP Connect app and plugged into a hidey-hole near the windscreen.

Having the right gear is absolutely critical for snowmobile riding
will sabel courtney snowmobile ski doo
Will Sabel Courtney

Anyone who happens to know me might find something odd about this selfie I took during the midpoint of my ride: I'm not wearing my glasses. Nearsightedness and an extreme aversion to touching my eyeballs means I'm forced to wear prescription lenses almost all the time, especially for driving — or operating another motor vehicle at high speeds.

Unfortunately, while the Ski-Doo folks were kind enough to outfit me with just about everything I needed for riding snowmobiles in the bitter chill of remote Montana, the helmet they gave me didn't play well with my glasses. My original goggles didn't fit flush over them, leaving me with gaps of exposed skin that were quickly being slapped with 50-mph wind on a 6º Fahrenheit day. (In case you were curious, that works out to a wind chill of -22.6º.)

2023 ski doo snowmobile west yellowstone montana
Will Sabel Courtney

The Ski-Doo folks were then able to source me a larger pair of goggles that managed to slide over my glasses, much to my excitement...at least, for about seven seconds, until my glasses fogged up completely under the barrage of moist warm air coming from my nose and mouth. With a balaclava over my face for warmth and a thick helmet pressed snug against almost my entire head, the only place for my breath to go was into the gap, instantly covering my glasses and goggles with near-opaque fog. Now, as any snowmobiler, skier or snowboarder knows, there's an easy solution for foggy goggles: start moving to get some wind over them. Unfortunately, the bigger goggles were too good at forming a seal, which meant little air could reach my glasses — and once it did, it was cold enough to freeze the moisture onto them. Strike two.

Not ones to give up easily, the Ski-Doo team swapped me to another snowmobile with a 12-volt power port and found a heated closed-faced helmet for me, which uses a built-in heater to fight fog and icing. That solved the icy-glasses problem like a champ; unfortunately, it was too good at its job, keeping even more of my breath inside and on my glasses. With my vision completely impaired, I had to tap out for the rest of the day.

As luck would have it, though, I found a solution roughly a week later on another snowmobile ride: a Zox Journey open-face helmet, which both offered enough space for my glasses and didn't fog them (or itself) up. Granted, that ride was taken at lower sustained speeds in warmer (i.e. low-20s) conditions, so it might not have worked for the sustained high-speed near-zero conditions I was encountering in Montana.

Nevertheless, for the casual bespectacled snowmobile rider, I'd say it's worth spending the money for this DOT-approved brain bucket, even if you're only planning on riding once or twice a year on vacation or at a friend's house. Either that, of course, or spring for some prescription goggles. I hear those work great too.

Journey Helmet
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Never compromise when it comes to your brain bucket.


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