Best Snowmobile Brands: Ski-Doo vs Arctic Cat vs Polaris vs Yamaha

In the world of snowmobiles, several well-known brands have been making reliable machines for decades. A lot of people know of these brands, but not everyone knows what the differences are between them. 

I’m an avid snowmobiler who spends as much time as possible out in the snow. I’ve ridden on many types of sleds over the years and am very familiar with all of the best snowmobile brands. 

This post will compare and contrast several of the best snowmobile brands, including Ski-Doo, Arctic Cat, Polaris, and Yamaha. I’ll provide some background on each brand and highlight what makes them well-known as a snowmobile manufacturer. 

Let’s jump into it.

Ski-DooArctic CatPolarisYamaha
Year Founded1959196219541955 (First snowmobile in 1968)
Best Known ForInnovation and reliability M-Series Comfort designs and custom options4-strokes and many other products
EnginesMostly 2-strokes some 4-strokesMostly 2-strokes2-strokes4-strokes
Location CanadaMinnesota, USMinnesota, USJapan

Initial Thoughts

Every snowmobiler has a favorite brand of snowmobile. And if you ask this question to four different riders, you will likely get four different answers that cover the top brands that we’ll discuss in this post. 

I’ve had the chance to ride on every one of the four major snowmobile brands, and while I definitely have some favorites sleds, I can’t honestly say that I’d recommend one brand over the others. 

These are the top four brands for a reason – they all make great machines that are reliable and cover an extensive range of styles, engine types, and many other features that all of us riders look for when buying a new machine.   

Ski-Doo

Ski-Doo is a near-legendary snowmobile brand that has been putting out some of the best machines in the world for over 50 years. This company started in 1959 in Canada, and that’s still where you’ll find its headquarters. 

Ski-Doo has become such a household name in Canada and other parts of the world that riders in these regions call all sleds “Ski-Doos” regardless of whether they actually are or not. That’s some serious brand loyalty if you ask me. 

The brand has come a long way since the original machines came out in the 1950s, and those original snowmobiles paved the way for many of the other brands to build solid foundations of off. 

Ski-Doo is probably the most successful snowmobile brand that has ever existed, and they sell more machines than any other brand today. This makes them popular all over the world, and you’re likely to find a Doo in just about any popular riding location. 

One thing that the brand is well-known for is its commitment to innovation and design. They are always putting out models with new features and functions built to increase performance and rider experience. 

Ski-Doo has many excellent snowmobiles in its most current lineup. These cover all of the different types of sleds, including powder, crossover, trail, and utility. They even make a smaller youth model to get the little ones riding young. 

There have been many popular models that the brand has put out over the years, but the Summit is one of their top ones. This solid big mountain and powder riding machine excels in deep snow and is ready for action. 

Most Ski-Doos have 2-stroke engines, but the brand has experimented with 4-stroke models. These typically get mixed reviews from riders, with most people I know saying the 2-stroke Ski-Doos are way better than the 4-bangers. 

Arctic Cat

Arctic Cat is another one of the top snowmobile brands, and it’s a favorite of several old-timer riders that I know. This is another company that has been around for a long time, and it was founded in Minnesota in 1960 – one year after Ski-Doo. 

Edgar Hetteen founded the company after shifting gears from Polaris – a brand he also helped launch (more on that later). The brand was first called Polar Manufacturing and then was changed to Arctic Enterprises. 

Arctic Cat was technically around for about a decade before they released the first Arctic Cat snowmobile. The Boss Cat model line that came out in 1970 is seen by many people as the first in the lineup. 

After some ups and downs over the next decade, the brand went bankrupt in 1982, which seemed like it might be the end of the line. But luckily, new owners came in and revived the struggling company, making it viable in the world of snowmobiles once again. 

Arctic Cat began to get more traction and popularity in the early 2000s when they released the M-series lineup of sleds. These are often called “Skinny Minis” because they had a narrower width than nearly every other type of sled on the market at the time. 

This model was popular with mountain riders at a time when backcountry snowmobiling was starting to take off, and it created a lot of success for the brand when they really needed it. 

Another model that got a lot of attention was the Z1 Jaguar, a 1056cc 4-stroke that had impressive amounts of horsepower and was the most powerful production sled on the market at the time. 

Today, Arctic Cat has several dozen different models in its lineup, offering a wide selection for riders of many styles. The Thundercat is a popular model known for its aggressive looks and high-end performance features. 

Polaris

Polaris is another brand that is very well known and respected. The company has been around since 1954, making it the oldest brand in the top four – just barely. Edgar Hetteen also founded Polaris with his brother and another partner in Minnesota. 

The first Polaris machines were a work in progress and were designed to help hunters access difficult-to-reach locations. They quickly became popular with outdoorspeople and other people living in rural areas with lots of snow. 

After some trial and error, and Edgar Hetteen getting disgruntled and leaving to start Arctic Cat, the first real Polaris model came out in 1956. This was called the Sno Traveler and had a top speed of a whopping 20 miles per hour. 

Polaris saw some early success by creating machines that were functional and comfortable. They focused on multi-rider capabilities and marketed them to families. This makes them one of the first brands to push snowmobiles as a form of outdoor entertainment and fun. 

This push quickly caught on, making Polaris a top brand in the business and boosting its total market share and value. It still holds second place in total sales most years behind Ski-Doo and is a trusted company for many riders. 

Some other innovations that Polaris is well-known for are its Storm and RMK models. The Storm was a trail-style sled with a wider stance than what was standard at the time. It gained popularity with riders who wanted a stable, race-like experience.  

The RMK was one of the first snowmobiles to be created with big mountain and deep powder in mind. This was extremely popular with seasoned riders who wanted increased capabilities in these conditions. 

Polaris also makes several other popular motor vehicles, including ATVs, and they have wide-ranging products that have helped the brand continue to grow over the years. They aren’t as snowmobile-specific as Ski-Doo and Arctic Cat. 

Today, the brand offers many different models, and lets riders build customized sleds for a unique and exciting experience. The RMK lineup is still one of their top offerings, and the RMK Khaos is a top performer when it comes to versatility and all-mountain capabilities. 

Yamaha

Yamaha is the last snowmobile brand on the big four list, but it’s by no means any lesser quality than the others I’ve already mentioned. This is a Japanese company that was founded in 1955 and started making snowmobiles and many other products. 

Yamaha began making motorcycles long before snowmobiles, but early success with these machines paved the way for a series of great snow-focused innovations to come. Its first snowmobile, the SL350, came out in 1968. 

One of my all-time favorite snowmobiles is the Yamaha Phazer, and this model quickly became the most popular snowmobile in the world when it came out in 1984. It had a powerful engine and was light, making it very capable and fun to ride. 

In the decades that followed, Yamaha continued to develop quality machines that gained worldwide popularity. They didn’t always as closely compete with the other brands, but they did have a lot of success. 

The brand once again became a leader in innovation when it decided to offer 4-stroke machines in 2007 strictly. This was big news, and the RX-1 model was one of the most performance-oriented snowmobiles you could get for a while. 

Yamaha 4-stroke engines have become popular because of their reputation for reliability and better emissions compared to 2-strokes and 4-strokes from the other brands. This rings true today with the current sleds in its lineup. 

The current lineup of Yamaha snowmobile models is pretty extensive, with machines available in the trail, crossover, mountain, utility, and youth styles. The Sidewinder is a very popular trail model that can reach impressive high speeds and comes in multiple trims. 

Unfortunately, the brand stopped making the Phazer in 2018, but I highly recommend it if you can still get your hands on one. They are fantastic machines and super-reliable and are one of my all-time favorite snowmobiles. 

Yamaha is still a leader in the world of snowmobiles. Despite having a smaller market share in strictly snowmobiles sales, the brand has a large international presence with all of the other products it manufactures.

Which Brand Should You Buy? 

There is no exact answer I can give you to tell you which of these top snowmobile brands to buy. The truth is, they are all pretty awesome, and you will have many options to choose from between them all. 

Take the time to look through the models they offer and decide based on your needs and preferences in the snow. Or ask some other riders their opinions on favorite makes and models. 

But if you see a used Yamaha Phazer along the way, let me know!

Conclusion 

The brands listed here make some of the best snowmobile models. And they have all been at it for decades, so they have a strong reputation for reliability and performance. You can’t go wrong with any of these snowmobile brands.

If you have the chance to ride different brands, that can give you a good feel of slight differences in comfort, performance, and any other factor that might help you decide which brand is best for you.

About Chaz Wyland
I’m a snowmobile fanatic. I live for riding and am out on the trails or backcountry as often as possible during the winter months. I was born and raised in the Rocky Mountains and have snowmobiled in dozens of North American locations. When the snow is falling, you’ll find me on a sled.

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