Wednesday, January 20, 2021
Features Car Guy Learns He Doesn't Know How to Ride a Polaris Snowmobile

Car Guy Learns He Doesn’t Know How to Ride a Polaris Snowmobile

I’ve held a driver’s license for nearly 27 years, a racing license for four of those, have hundreds upon hundreds of track hours under my belt and have driven in excess of 1,500 different cars since becoming a newly minted driver.

What could possibly be so different on a snowmobile?

As I look out my home-office window, at the accumulated snow and the snow that continues to fall, I’m reminded of an adventure I was on a few years ago just above the Arctic Circle in Sweden.

I travelled with Volkswagen to Arjeplog, in the Swedish Lapland, to drive the then new MK6 Golf R on a frozen lake. Occasionally, on such events, activities are made available to the travelers before actually doing work (yes, beating on and drifting a Golf R on a frozen lake in Sweden in the dead of winter is a job!)

One of the pastimes was suiting up, jumping on a Polaris snowmobile and heading out to a look-out point for a breathtaking view of the setting sun.

Our steeds were all identical however our tour guides got larger machines. From what I was told, our units all featured a 125-horsepower engine and weighed roughly 550 lbs. or about 250 kg, before parking my large behind on the bench.

My first thought was: “Bah, 125-hp, whatever, can’t be that fast…”.

Although the concept of power-to-weight ratio is immensely clear in mind, tracking and owning mostly sub-150 horsepower 1,000 kg cars, I’d not done the math quite so good…

My first mistake was crushing the throttle the very first chance I got. Thankfully, I’d left a fair amount of distance between myself and the snowmobile ahead of me. I quickly realized two things: This machine was far more powerful and faster than I’d imagined and that the brakes although “good”, do not exactly respond like vented and cross-drilled Brembo discs with track-biased brake pads.

At one point, we traversed one of the many lakes that bisect the area and reached over 120 km/h. I’d mastered easing on and off the throttle and judging braking distances so I felt confident.

With ego properly stroked, it was quickly crushed when negotiating a trail through the woods. I discovered that, like cars, understeer is directly related to speeds going around a bend. I was also reminded about vision. On a track or on the road, one must never stare at the object we are trying to avoid but towards the intended path of the evasive maneuver.

As I careened helplessly towards a tree stump on the edge of the trail, I stuck my foot out in an attempt to cushion the inevitable impact with my leg. Luckily, I’d scrubbed enough speed off and so managed to only skim the stump with a ski, avoiding much pain. I may have scratched said ski but that in the past now.

Needless to say, I behaved for the remainder of the trek. I did top out later on at 140 km/h, again on a lake, and gained an enormous amount of respect for these impressive recreational vehicles.

The sunset was incredible, as promised. And the riding experienced was equally invigorating. I’ve not mounted a snowmobile since – but I will again however the day they set one up with a steering wheel and proper pedals.

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Matt St-Pierre
Matt St-Pierre
Trained as an Automotive Technician, Matt has two decades of automotive journalism under his belt. He’s done TV, radio, print and this thing called the internet. He’s an avid collector of many 4-wheeled things, all of them under 1,500 kg, holds a recently expired racing license and is a father of two. Life is beautiful. Send Matt an emai

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