I used to have these friends who were so much fun to snowboard with it was silly. But as soon as they got enough scratch together to buy snowmobiles (a.k.a. sleds or snowmachines), they rarely showed up on the hill anymore.

With the development of mountain-class snowmobiles, many snowboarders have been drawn from the slopes. These dream machines have opened the door to uncompromised backcountry performance. Formerly aftermarket features, such as 140-inch-long tracks, two-inch paddles, and handlebar straps for side-hilling, have become standard, making these high-pointers better equipped and more affordable (they require less modifications).

Longer tracks and deeper paddles (or lugs) create better flotation and greater grabbing power in soft snow–getting you to the top of just about any slope. Those extras, coupled with innovative suspension systems and better power-to-weight ratios, make the backcountry more accessible than ever.

Arctic Cat Powder Special

The 2000 Powder Special is primed to track the untrackable with extra-wide skis for flotation, a 37-inch ski stance (the distance between skis) for improved side-hilling, and a 136-inch-long track with two-inch lugs (on all but the P.S. 500).

To maximize comfort and control, the Powder Special also comes with a unique long-travel rear suspension system called Fas Track. On the Powder Special 500- and 600-EFI (electronic fuel injection), fuel/air mixtures automatically adjust to varying altitudes–no more fiddling with carburetors or fouling plugs.

In addition to the 500- and 600-EFI, Arctic Cat offers a Powder Special 700 and the 999 cc Thundercat Mountain Cat (more of a trail sled). These machines are putting high marks where before only birds could reach. The Powder Special 700 is priced at 7,099 dollars. See arctic-cat.com for more information.

Ski-Doo Summit

Ski-Doo’s Summit series offers a full complement of mountain-sled features plus many of the performance characteristics of the more cross-country-oriented MX-Z line.

The Summit employs a now-common 136-inch track with two-inch Super-V (a tread pattern) lugs. A rear high-pressure gas shock takes the hits and carries the load, while a new Rotax liquid-cooled engine supplies the power. The 2000s also come equipped with Ski-Doo’s Digital Performance System, which compensates for altitude and atmospheric changes from base to peak.

In addition to the mountain-grab handle and abrasive running boards for traction–both Ski-Doo firsts–that come standard on this sled, the Summit has a digitally encoded security system (DESS) to prevent trailhead lurkers from making away with such a fine piece of machinery.

The Summit comes in 600 cc and 700 cc models, the 700 selling for 7,199 dollars. Check out www.ski-doo.com to learn more.

Yamaha Mountain Max

The Mountain Max steps it up this season with 141 inches of powder-shredding track–the longest in its class–and a new two-inch lug pattern that leaves the others way behind.

Yamaha has brought a plethora of changes to the 2000 Mountain Max, the only three-cylinder-powered sled in its class. Chief among them are the new tapered tunnel–the space between the track and chassis–that reduces drag in deep snow and the easy-adjust rear suspension (ProAction Plus). The Mountain Max has always had the power, and its latest refinements improve the sled’s mobility.

Add to the list a redesigned rear bumper, a snow flap, and raised handlebars with a mountain strap, and you’ve got a serious backcountry rig. Yamaha offers the Mountain Max in both a 600 cc and 700 cc version. The 700 goes for 6,999 dollars. Visit www.yamaha-motor.com for details.

Polaris Rocky Mountain King (RMK)

Polaris has been making snowmobiles for 45 years. That’s a llot of time to tinker, and Polaris’ experience shows in its new models. While the RMK needed little refinement, this year it touts a revolutionary ski design and an exclusive adjustable-width ski stance that requires no extra parts. Skis can be positioned between 38.2 and 39.5 inches (narrower being better for side-hilling).

The RMK 700 weighs in lighter than last season’s 670 model yet offers more of the smooth, reliable power it’s known for–an amazing transformation. This year’s Polaris also has a unique cooling system that acts as a running-board gripper and de-icer.

The RMK is available in an Indy Trail model, and a 500, 600, 700, and 800. The Indy 800 RMK (the only two-cylinder 800) starts at 7,899 dollars. See www.polarisindustries.com for details.

–John Chorlton