Text by Blair Korchinski
People purchase snowmobiles for a variety of reasons and uses. They may need them for work or play, for racing, hunting, or for performing chores on the farm. They may need a large, powerful machine for hauling many people or a lot of weight, or may want something suitable for keeping children entertained on weekends. In some areas, a snowmobile may be the prime method of winter transport, making reliability more important than speed or hauling power.
Whatever you are looking for in a snowmobile, chances are that somebody will be able to provide it. Just like when you are buying a new car though, it’s best to decide what you need before you go to the dealership. That way you don’t end up with a two-seater sports car when you need a work truck, or vice versa.
So ask yourself these questions.
What are you going to be doing with your snowmobile? Is it for pleasure, work, or both? Do you favour long trail rides, or short sprints in a relatively small area? Are you likely to be riding in deep fresh snow or on well-packed trails? Is noise a problem? Will you be carrying passengers or towing loads? Are you looking for speed or leisurely touring?
Who is going to be riding the sled you choose? Will adolescents and young adults be operating it without your supervision? How powerful a machine are you comfortable with them using? Will everyone using it be about the same physical size?
There are also accessories to consider. Will you need a trailer? Do you have the proper safety equipment? Do you have proper snowmobiling attire?
Then there is the most practical consideration of all. Safety. Snowmobiles are relatively simple to operate, but they are powerful machines that often take the rider to fairly remote areas. A lot of people are injured on snowmobiles each year. If you are a novice, or if a novice is going to be using your machine, lessons are an excellent idea. In some jurisdictions, they are necessary to get an operator’s license.
Once you’ve answered these questions, you can start to make informed choices about which machine suits you best.
If you are going to be doing a lot of touring, or using the snowmobile for work, a four-stroke engine will likely be preferable. These engines have the advantage of creating a lot of power at low RPM. They can also be fueled with conventional gas, while two-stroke engines require oil mixed into the gas.
Two-stroke engines were the standard choice for snowmobiles for a very long time. While four-stroke engines are now widely available, the two-stroke is still most common. They produce the most power at high rpm, making them the natural choice for those who require a lot of speed. Two-stroke engines are also lighter than four-strokes as a rule, and help with the power to weight ratio.
The engine drives the tread, making it turn and propelling the machine forward. A wider tread offers more traction, but also adds weight. A wider tread can also be helpful in keeping the machine from sinking into deep snow. Just like with car tires, your choice of tread should match the purpose of the machine. A relatively long, narrow tread is best for trail riding and riding at low speed on packed surfaces. A wider, shorter tread is preferable for drag racing and traveling in deep snow.
The final major concern when deciding upon a snowmobile is the suspension. As a rule, if you are going to be riding in rough areas, you want a fairly soft suspension with a lot of travel. This will help to absorb the shock of landings after jumps and soften the effect of large bumps in the trail. This type of suspension is most common on the small, sporty snowmobiles built for speed. If you regularly carry passengers or haul heavy loads, a less aggressive but slightly stiffer suspension is usually the best way to go. These handle the extra weight better, but tend to give a less comfortable ride when there is a light load being carried. Just like with cars and trucks, some manufacturers now offer adjustable suspension on the higher end machines.
No matter what your preferences, there is a snow machine out there for you. They are a source of great enjoyment for many, and a workhorse for others. Good sledding.