a man riding a snowmobile

Image credit: Mountain Adventures.

Riding in a Winter Wonderland: How to buy a Snowmobile

By Valerie Farabee

It’s dark. It’s cold. It’s snowy. Winter is here, bane of man even before Richard III moaned “now is the winter of our discontent”. Why are you so pumped? It’s because you’ve discovered the joys of zipping along a quietly beautiful trail in the dead of winter. That’s right – you’ve discovered the snowmobile.

Is that a new type of cell phone?

No. It’s an old type of land vehicle designed for for winter travel over the snow. Read on to find out what’s important when you are buying a snowmobile.

Planes, Trains, and Snowmobiles

One of the most important factors to consider when you are buying a snowmobile is what you will be using the snowmobile for. Will you be racing it across the open trail, or will you be doing some long-ride touring somewhere in the snowbelt? Are you planning on some solo-time or is this fun for the whole family? Racing, touring, or even deep snow adventures all require differently equipped snowmobiles, and you’ll want to nail down your primary use – and who you’ll be using it with – so you’ll know what kind of vehicle to get and how many seats to ask for.

Buying a Snowmobile 101

In this class, we’ll take a look at the features of the basic types of snowmobiles you’ll be looking at and for on your buying quest.

An entry-level snowmobile, also known as a trail model, is a great choice for your first snowmobile. These vehicles are easy to ride, with features like an electric start and reverse for easy starting and easy maneuvering. Consider that they are light, easy to handle, and a relatively inexpensive way to begin snowmobiling. Engines range from 60-70 horsepower in these models. This is a great starter model, and recommended for those buying their first snowmobiles!

A performance snowmobile, like any performance vehicle, features higher horsepower engines and systems designed to help the vehicle perform. These are heavier than the entry-level vehicles due to a larger engine and the added weight of the high-performance suspension systems, shock-absorbers and more. These vehicles are responsive and performance oriented – this is what you want if you plan on racing around and tearing it up! Engines start at 85 horsepower in these models. Recommended for those who have experience with snowmobiles and racing them!

Touring snowmobiles are perfect for long distance rides through winter wonderlands. Generally designed for two individuals, touring models usually include luxuries like backrests, side-mounted mirrors, larger windshields, and a reverse gear and electric start. They are larger, heavier, and have longer track lengths than either performance or entry-level snowmobiles because they are designed for comfortably riding long distances. The longer track length cushions the ride, adds stability, and creates an all around comfortable touring ride for two! This is a great choice for couples who live in very snowy areas and enjoy getting out during the winter months.

If you’re riding in deep snow or crazy mountainous terrain, take a look at a mountain snowmobile. They are designed with long lug tracks to allow them to maneuver through deep powder and other heavy snow conditions. Because horsepower is lost at higher elevations, these snowmobiles have high horsepower engines. This model will be of more fun and more use on the mountain than on the trail, so make sure that mountain riding is really the prime use for your machine, and you will be very pleased.

How to Keep From Breaking Up

…Into a million little pieces. Safety is always important – especially when you are going very fast over some very slick ice and snow! In my ATV Buying Guide I discuss how I know that helmets aren’t fun – but neither is brain surgery. So to you I say the same thing – quit yer belly achin’ and get some protective gear. The minimum gear needed is listed below. Please allow the enthusiastic sales clerk at the establishment where you are purchasing your snowmobile to outfit you with whatever he or she says you need!

Helmet. You need a helmet. Your brain is tres important. You can find helmets for anywhere between $90 and up to $400 for one with a heated visor, and it should be considered part of the total price of the snowmobile.

Goggles. You’ll be going very fast in some very wintry conditions, which basically means ice pellets will be fighting among themselves to see who can slice up your corneas fastest. This is why I recommend goggles. Like your helmet, they protect a very important part of you, and I must insist you consider them as part of your total purchase price. You can find goggles for between $15 and $400.

Clothing. You will need all sorts of warm stuff. Let’s assume that because you are looking for a snowmobile you either live in or spend an inordinate amount of time in a wintry climate. Since you live/spend time there, you probably have warm clothes. Make sure you have a couple of layers on and a waterproof jacket when you are snowmobiling, because that wind will chill you to the bone.

So…How Much Should I Spend On My Actual Vehicle?

A snowmobile is an investment in a lifestyle. It’s an investment in fun and family time, and it’s an investment in a tool that you will be able to use around the house when every other avenue for you to leave is closed off to you because of wind, snow, and other unfriendly conditions. So I recommend spending as much as you can afford to buy as much machine as you need! A used snowmobile – and please, only buy one of these if you are familiar with snowmobiles or have a good friend who is – will run you about $3,000. A new snowmobile – go buy one, kids – will run you up to $10,000, but it’s worth it to avoid the winter doldrums and to be able to work around the house during the winter time.

Whatever your reasons may be, I hope you truly enjoy your new snowmobile! Good luck and a Happy Winter to you!