Back in the day, aftermarket snowmobile skis were an obvious upgrade for anyone looking for an edge. Upgrading to an aftermarket ski could greatly improve your performance over stock (especially in the days of going from metal to plastic). Today, OEMs have stepped up their game and have developed some great skis that work for a wide variety of riders. But the key here is that they are for the general masses. They try to predict how most people will ride that specific model of snowmobile and match the ski design to that purpose. But not every rider of a specific snowmobile model will use it how the engineers designed it to be used. It’s the outliers who can benefit the most from aftermarket skis. If you’re not an outlier, you can still customize the look and performance of your snowmobile with aftermarket options.
To determine what ski design and features are best for you, you first need to know how those features affect the performance of your snowmobile. The width of the ski is a main feature that can affect performance and handling characteristics. Mountain riders will enjoy the benefits of wider ski when they are in powder conditions. The wider the ski is, the more floatation it creates by dispersing the weight of the front of the sled over a larger footprint. If all out performance and nose floatation in the powder is your objective, opt for the widest ski available from your preferred brand. Eight- and up to ten-inch-wide skis are what many hardcore mountain riders choose.
Wide skis are not great for trail conditions, though. The extra wide skis make turning difficult as they do not have the best hookup. Long track sleds with extra wide skis tend to push through corners on groomed or hard-packed snow. If you are a mountain rider that also wants a nice ride out to the powder, you may have to look for a compromise.
That compromise can come in the form of a narrower ski or one with a keel designed for better trail handling. Look for a ski with squared edges on the keel(s) to get a better bite on hard packed snow. Having the wear rod placed directly under the spindle can also help sharpen your cornering ability.
Handling in powder is dependent on the keel and “wing” design on the underside of the ski. Multiple keels allow for the snow to get trapped under the ski, which provides the bite you need to turn in loose snow. Some manufacturers even add smaller wing features on the edge of the ski to help trap the snow and give bite while sidehilling.
The biggest concerns for trail riders generally lie in the precision of handling and the ability to absorb punishment from whooped out trails. Because trails are a fairly hard surface, handling is greatly impacted by what wear rods you use and the design of the keel on the ski. Aftermarket trail skis are designed to position the wear rods where they can create the best bite, while also eliminating darting. The keel design is also integral to help provide the best steering possible while also minimizing the amount of darting. Some aftermarket brands have their own proprietary keel designs to help with this. More narrow skis lead to easier steering for the rider. And because floatation isn’t a major concern for trail sleds, skis can be as narrow as five to six inches.
Backcountry or crossover snowmobiles need a very specific ski. Riders looking for the greatest performance while boondocking should look toward a wider, more mountain style ski. Something in the seven- to nine-inch range is probably best. Riders who only occasionally pop off the trail should look for something a bit more trail oriented. A ski in the seven- or eight-inch range that has a keel design that is more conducive to trail riding is a good choice. The overall width of that ski should be plenty to get through the occasional powder though it won’t be the best in deep loose powder.
The amount of aftermarket skis available today is incredible. The positive is that you can find a ski that will perform excellent in the conditions that you ride in most. The downside is that it can be intimidating to know what to choose when you are coming in blind. With the above points in mind, you will be able to make an educated decision on what snowmobile skis are best for you and your riding style.