If you’re like many of us, the massive amount of snow that has fallen on the United States this season has you thinking it’s time to get a new snowmobile. There are over 225,000 miles of groomed snowmobile trails in North America and an almost infinite amount of ungroomed free-ride terrain. I know that during winters when there is a lot of snowfall, I start thinking that I need a new one. The question always seems to come up to me though—which new sled do I want?

That’s a hard question to answer. There are so many snowmobiles that selecting the right one can be a challenge. Different engine sizes and types, track lengths, chassis packages, and more make selecting the right ride something that takes time. And on top of that, you have to pick the manufacturer you like best.

Look inward

Before you look at all the different sleds out there, the first thing you should do is look at yourself, Kale Wainer, a public relations manager with Arctic Cat, told me. You need to assess your riding skills. Are you completely new to snowmobiling and motorsports, or do you have years of riding experience?

“No matter what your riding skill, be honest with yourself about how and where you will ride your snowmobile the majority of the time,” Wainer said.

Will you ride on or off groomed trails? Are you a slow or fast rider? Do you like to hit big bumps? There are a ton of variables and being honest with yourself will make selecting the right sled easier and more enjoyable, Wainer shared.

Be honest about your skills and where you think you'll be riding most often. It'll help you choose which machine is right for you. Image courtesy Arctic Cat.
Be honest about your skills and where you think you’ll be riding most often. It’ll help you choose which machine is right for you. Image courtesy Arctic Cat.

Knowing how well you can ride is a big issue, too. Snowmobiles are fast and it is so easy to quickly exceed your abilities if you’re not experienced. A lot of people die every year in snowmobiling accidents, and the two biggest reasons revolve around going too fast and, of course, drinking while riding.

Forming a relationship

One thing every manufacturer will attest to is the need to form a good relationship with your dealer before buying a sled.

“There is no substitute for a personal conversation about how you want to use the machine, and performance expectations,” Steve Cowing, a public relations manager with Ski-Doo, recommended. “All Ski-Doo dealers go through training to learn how to help customers find what they are looking for.”

One thing all the manufacturers agree on is that finding the right fit is vital to getting the most enjoyment form buying a sled. And they all agree that finding the right dealer is a key part of that.

Beyond that, take the advice the dealer gives to heart. And if you get a chance to actually rid a sled before purchasing one, don’t let it pass you by!

“Arctic Cat hosts several demo rides in the winter,” Wainer said. “Take a demo ride. You’ll learn a lot from jumping on one snowmobile model to another. Start a relationship with your dealer and don’t be afraid to ask questions.”

Cowing added that consumers need to shop carefully and match their needs to the right model.

“Don’t buy a sled for image, buy it for your needs,” Cowing said.

Looking at the basics

There are a few key things to take into consideration and help you prepare for the conversation you’ll have with the dealer when you visit the shop.

Engines come in two basic types: two-stroke and four-stroke. Image courtesy Arctic Cat.
Engines come in two basic types: two-stroke and four-stroke. Image courtesy Arctic Cat.


The engines come in two basic varieties: two-stroke and four-stroke.

A two-stroke engine completes a full cycle in only one crankshaft revolution and with two strokes (movements) of the piston. This is accomplished by the end of the combustion stroke and the beginning of the compression stroke happening simultaneously, and performing the intake and exhaust (or scavenging) functions at the same time. The four stroke takes, predictably, four strokes to complete the cycle.

Two-stroke engines traditionally provide higher power-to-weight ratios, but that power is applied in a narrow range. Compared to four-stroke engines, two-strokes have fewer moving parts, are more compact, and significantly lighter—that is, until a few years ago.

The modern four-stroke is lighter than its predecessors and produces a broad range of power. Recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requirements on emissions forced both the four-stroke and two-stroke engine to evolve. An older two-stroke was not what you would typically call “environmentally friendly” according to EPA standards. Modern two-strokes meet or exceed these standards and offer snowmobilers more choices.

Track length

There are a lot of track-length choices to be found. The two biggest market shares go to crossover sleds and trail sleds. Crossover snowmobiles are the most popular class right now in the industry, Wainer said. These models have a little longer track, and often times a deeper track lug so they can handle on- or off-trail riding extremely well.

Longer tracks offer better bump bridging, Cowing said, making for a smoother ride, like on the Ski-Doo Renegade models. There can sometimes be a slight weight gain with a longer track, too.

Longer tracks tend to provide better flotation and traction in deeper snow. Image courtesy Arctic Cat.
Longer tracks tend to provide better flotation and traction in deeper snow. Image courtesy Arctic Cat.

Longer tracks tend to provide better flotation and traction in deeper snow. Longer tracks tend to sacrifice some trail handling, but the effect is almost negligible.

“An Arctic Cat ZR has a 129-inch track and is built for trail riding, and an XF has a 137-inch or 141-inch track for the crossover market,” Wainer said. “The difference in trail handling between these two is very minimal. That said, If you compared a ZR to an M-Series mountain sled that has a 153-inch or 162-inch track, the handling [difference] would be noticeable, but then again, you don’t buy a mountain sled to ride trails.”

Selecting the right sled means knowing how much power you can handle and what you want the sled to do. It also means knowing how much you can handle both in terms of performance and budget. Ah, the money part of it. New sleds aren’t cheap, but there is usually a machine to fit everyone’s ability to ride and pay for it. The hardest part, at least for me, is making payments on a sled and walking past it sitting in the garage come August, knowing I can’t ride it. Of course, that all goes away in January, when I’m bouncing along trails and smiling from ear to ear. Pick the sled and the dealership that suits you best and go for it. Snowmobiling is fun!

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