The Cat Came Back
By Stephen Furlong
I picked up my 2018 Arctic Cat M8000 from Decker’s in Clareville with nervous anticipation early January and took it straight out for some break-in miles. I went with the early release model because I like the grey and lime green colors and I may have been swayed by some rumors of the early release motors pulling an extra 10hp on dynos. In any case, for me it was a return to a brand I hadn’t owned in a few years.
I have owned all brands and I am not someone who buys a sled out of blind loyalty. I buy what I like and what I think will serve my riding style. I have always loved the style and attitude of Arctic Cat. I still remember the day I opened up my 2006 F7 for the first time, and the first time I pinned my 2010 HCR… these were very exciting sleds for me. Around 2012 I had the chance to step on an RMK and a few Ski-doo models. The old Arctic Cat sleds (up to 2011) had great motors and it was cool to see pros like Burandt and Rasmussen put them through their paces. Those riders moved onto other brands and sled platforms, and so did the industry. It was time for Arctic Cat to follow suit, but the results did not quite hit home in my book. The cats of 2012 looked great but had a heavy feeling low center of gravity, I just could not compare it to my experience on the RMK. I was able to maneuver the RMK with ease and control and the Cat couldn’t give me that.
I spent a few years on the RMK and its ability to hold a line and side-hill gave me the confidence to push myself and improve as a rider. It didn’t have the jam that my previous sleds had, I wasn’t worried about wheelies, but more concerned over looking back at a successfully completed line.
I was excited when I saw the ads for the new Arctic Cat ascender platform and the new motor, I knew I had to go back and try it. The day I took the 2018 M8000 into the back country brought me right back to the excitement of my first ride on the F7 and HCR that I loved. This thing rips!
I instantly felt the comfort level of owning the sled for years. The narrow geometry is nimble and doesn’t panel out in a side-hill. The clutching has a low and smooth engagement that aggressively opens up when you put it on the handle. The shallower approach angle of the track prevented trenching kept me on top of the snow. I fell in love with this sled in the first hour and felt like my previous years riding translated seamlessly onto this sled, but now I was rolling with Arctic Cat power again. I have seen plenty debates over the ability to wheelie, or a sled that prevents it for control…. Well now all of a sudden I have a choice! I was able to keep the skis down and control my line to the best of my abilities, or stick it on the bumper with no regard for the snow flap. The low steady engagement provides a lot of control and precision when you need it, but once the RPMs ramp up there is a lot of power to be delivered by the 3” lugs on that 153” track.
I would only change two things on this sled. Firstly, the foot boards are not great. I have broken them in the past because they are not robust enough. The aftermarket M8000 boards from Arctic Cat should be stock. Secondly, I did not like the handlebar switch clusters on my 2010 HCR and the same setup
showed up on my 2018. The bulky plastic housings are easy to strike/break and the large rocker switches are often inadvertently pushed. The reverse button is not easy to push with gloves on and the sled needs a stock tether! The 2019 sleds have solved all these handlebar issues and added a magnetic tether. The boards still need an update.
This sled finally brings Arctic Cat to the forefront in my opinion. The apparent tipping point and center of gravity and the overall geometry of the seat, handlebars and foot-wells work very well with the clutching and power. I was able to find a level of confidence on this sled that bordered the danger zone above my skill set. And finally, as the Cats always have, it looks great. The lines and aggressive stance of this sled excites me before I even start the motor. I love the new direction of the brand and believe the next big thing in mountain sleds will be the monorail suspension seen in the 2019 AlphaOne. I’m eagerly looking forward to trying the Alpha this season.
If the M’s have fallen to the back of your mind in recent years, I think it is time you give them a serious look or you just might miss out!