By SCOT MAGNISH
They may all look the same to the untrained eye, but all snowmobiles arenít created equal.
There are high-performance snowmobiles; trail sleds, mountain sleds and touring machines. There are snowmobiles made for two; sleds made for long-range riding and others made for hauling.
Before you plunk $7,000 down on the latest, greatest liquid-cooled 800, though, thereís a few questions you ought to ask yourself.
Chris Reid, snowmobile product manager for Yamaha, says the answers could save you thousands of dollars - and make the difference between a good time and a great one.
"The first thing you have to determine is what kind of riding are you going to do?" Reid asks.
Many new buyers convince themselves they need a bigger, faster, more sophisticated machine than they are going to use, he says - and waste a lot of money in the process."
"Thereís a lot of posers out there, and thank goodness for them, but a lot of people donít really need the hottest sled on the market to have fun," he explains.
Sometimes, less - like Yamahaís little 500cc Phaser at $6,500 - is more.
Reid says an ideal entry-level sled for bombing around the cottage will be in this class, fan-cooled as opposed to liquid-cooled, and twin cylinder vs. a triple cylinder.
"If youíre going to be a weekend warrior, this is where you should be starting," he advises, admitting that the 600cc class offers the most bang for your buck but that sleds down to 440ccs are still a lot of fun.
Not everyone is a homebody, however - and Reid says those who plan on a putting a lot of miles between themselves and the cottage ought to consider something with a little more get-up-and-go under the hood.
Something liquid cooled and in the 700cc range is the minimum if itís long-range trail riding two-up that you plan, Reid recommends, advising new buyers to splurge for the "deluxe" package available on most models that usually includes options like a reverse gear and electric start.
"Would you buy a car without reverse or a big motorcycle without electric start? I donít think so," Reid points put. "The same is true when youíre talking about a 700cc touring sled."
At the upper end of the snowmobile spectrum are the high-performance sleds which can cost upwards of $11,000. Reid says machines like Yamahaís SRX offer cutting-edge technology and are "about as quick as they get" - but like sports cars, have limitations when it comes to riding trails or touring.
"Thatís not to say you shouldnít buy one if thatís what you want," Reid says, "but few beginners actually need an SRX to enjoy snowmobiling."
Want a sled but canít justify the expense for a new one? Good, used snowmobiles can be found starting at $2,000, if youíre willing to shop around and take your time buying. Ideally, youíll find your dream machine at a dealership somewhere - but sometimes, the perfect sled will be found through a private sale.
Hereís some tips from the pros on what to look for when buying used - and what to avoid:
Scot Magnish is a motorsports columnist for Sun Media