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snow machines for dummies

remsen

Well-known member
Dec 9, 2007
460
0
Danville, CA
I have a cabin pretty far off the beaten path in Montana and I went out there for the first time in winter last month. I promptly got my truck stuck when the snow got deep and the trail got steep. I now know that the way to the cabin in the winter is via snow machine or on foot (snowshoe, which is how I made it the three miles from my stuck truck).

I don't know a thing about snow machines other than I've ridden them a few times. But I definitely need to buy one for future winters, especially since I plan to go to the cabin for hunting seasons and there's snow on the ground then.

This is a pure utility purchase...I don't care about going fast or racing the thing. I want it to be reliable, efficient and capable of pulling something about the weight of a field dressed bull elk.

Anyone have favorite brands or models or, barring that, anything to definitely avoid?
 

Driftin'

Well-known member
Nov 16, 2009
2,206
11
Offshore
I'll let others opine on their favorite brands, etc. Just be sure that you can get good service for your choice in both CA and MT. Stop in at local shops in both states and take a pulse check on those in the service department. Such 1-on-1 conversations may sway your ultimate choice beyond what you garner from those in the know hereabouts....
 

Brother Bill

Administrator
Nov 17, 2007
2,454
7
Paradise, Alaska
Dealership is the big hurdle these days, people just can't seem to get what customer service is anymore.

If a guy can find a Ski Doo shop worth its salt, it would be tough to go wrong with the Expedition 600 or 900 ACE 4stroke. Utility sled that can still be 'fun' when a guy wants.
 

Paul H

Well-known member
Nov 19, 2007
1,578
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Alaska
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Depending on how much you'd be hauling and the trail I'd look at the SkiDoo Tundra and the Expedition with the 600 or 900 ACE, provided you have decent dealerships. Any reasonable sled will pull an elk with ease. If you're looking at pulling in supplies to build a bigger cabin or other large loads then the wide track expedition comes into it's own.

I know new machines are spendy, but after having gotten an 93 skandic, replacing all the rusted out bearings in the idlers, bearings in the chain case, discovering a cracked gear in the chain case, broken shock, new skis, and a few other things I've forgotten I'd go new. Especially after fighting to pull start the thing after it's been cold soaked and not sure if the carbs are gunked up or why it won't wind out last time I tried to run it.

Give me an electric start fuel injected fan cooled 4 stroke 600 ACE!
 

cwh

Administrator
Nov 18, 2007
4,510
90
Anchorage
The 600 ACE tundra is awesome... you'll never go fast, but it has plenty of power to pull a sled and a person or two. Crazy fuel economy, quiet, torquey, maneuverable. That sounds like the machine I would get if I were in your shoes.

Snow conditions will dictate towing capabilities as much as machines, and rider ability dictates where you can go more than the machine. If you are going to be towing a lot of weight, nothing beats a skandic, and they can go damn near anywhere, but you'll have to be sort of fearless.

I don't know anyone's lineup besides skidoo, but I'd probably stick with whatever had local(ish) service. The bearcat has a loyal following among haulers, but I don't think I've ever been on one.
 

remsen

Well-known member
Dec 9, 2007
460
0
Danville, CA
Thanks for all the advice. The closest dealer is going to be about 70 miles away in either Bozeman or Helena, but I'm going to be keeping the machine in storage in Bozeman when I'm not using it at the cabin, so I guess that should work out.

The heaviest thing I ever expect to haul is elk. If I ever have to bring in bigger things, I would do it in spring/summer when I can get in with the truck.

Next step is to stop by the SkiDoo dealer in town and see what they have to say.

Thanks again for the advice.
 

cwh

Administrator
Nov 18, 2007
4,510
90
Anchorage
Not knowing what the market is like there, it might be worth hitting Craigslist for low mileage used machines. I've never owned a new sled - I hear they are nice though.
 

remsen

Well-known member
Dec 9, 2007
460
0
Danville, CA
How much maintenance do these machines need? If they aren't ridden hard and only for limited mileage/hours each season are they usually good to go with just off season maintenance and proper storage? I'd be happy with a used one at a lower cost, but my primary goal is to have something that I don't have to worry about breaking down when I need it most.
 

cwh

Administrator
Nov 18, 2007
4,510
90
Anchorage
Every year, drop chaincase oil, and if its a 4-stroke, engine oil/filter. Replace with new. That can take a bit more work than on a vehicle, because manufacturers live in a dream world where maintenance doesn't happen. So you will be draining oil into the belly of the machine and waiting for it to find a drain hole, or pulling the cover off the chaincase, or pulling engine oil out with a pump, or drilling some access holes. Still, that is like a 2 hour job at worst. Ok, I know a guy that took 8 hours to change the oil, but that was because he wouldn't drill a hole in his new machine.

Grease every zerk on the machine. Use a flashlight and dig deep. 30 minutes. This shit isn't hard.

Now, if you hit something... be prepared to open your wallet. And if you don't have some experience working on machines, it may not be the worst thing to buy new. People will try to pawn broken shit off on the unsuspecting. I have been on the receiving end of that before.
 

Paul H

Well-known member
Nov 19, 2007
1,578
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Alaska
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If you can find a powder puff wife's snowmachine that has less than 200 hours on it and has been stored in a garage for 10 years, then you can find a heck of a deal on a used machine. Asside from that utility sleds are usually ridden hard and you don't know what parts are worn out or nearly worn out until they break. Given the price I paid for my first machine I shouldn't have been surprised how much work it needed, but until you realize how much stuff can be broken you don't appreciate how much time and $ it is to rebuild an older machine, and how it can be a PITA just to track down parts. The good part of my machine is that as far as I can tell the engine was rebuilt fairly recently, everything else I had to rebuild. I'm getting to age where I'd much rather pay the $ on the front end and have a gas and go machine than paying for how much I "saved" with sweat equity.

The question is if you buy used are you willing to do a partial rebuild on the machine to make sure you can rely on it, or do you not have the time and inclination to do so and just want something you turn the key, fire up and motor on down the trail? Another concern with older machines is that the wiring harnesses are anything but milspec so add working in a wet environment and who knows how they are stored off season and you're going to get electrical gremlins sooner or later. With machines getting more complex in terms of electronics, it's something to consider.

If your cabin doesn't already have a small genset, I'd advise getting one to have the ability to charge a dead battery.
 

remsen

Well-known member
Dec 9, 2007
460
0
Danville, CA
Thanks, you just made the decision easier. I am also at the point in life where I don't mind paying the money up front to make it more likely I waste less times fixing things rather than enjoying them.

I do have a small generator at the cabin, so I'll be able to keep the battery charged.

Thanks again to all for the very helpful guidance.
 

cwh

Administrator
Nov 18, 2007
4,510
90
Anchorage
I think paying the money for a new machine increases your odds of getting a reliable machine, but it certainly doesn't guarantee it.

Thinking back, had a buddy that got a brand new 550 Fan tundra (Skidoo has used that motor forever). Never ran right, dealer hasn't ever been able to fix it. He's still fighting that POS 4 or 5 years later.

Another buddy bought a brand new 600 ACE tundra. Awesome machine.... stopped dead in a creek bottom and would not turn over. No pull start, dead machine. Had to walk back to his cabin and then tow it back to the trailer, haul it to town, where they replaced a relay and it was back in business. He carries spare relays now...grin.

I think it was 07 when Skidoo "forgot" to put assembly lube in bunches of their 800s? Summits were melting down left and right, and you were back at the mercy of your dealership.

Sleds are fun!
 

remsen

Well-known member
Dec 9, 2007
460
0
Danville, CA
cwh said:
I think paying the money for a new machine increases your odds of getting a reliable machine, but it certainly doesn't guarantee it.

Thinking back, had a buddy that got a brand new 550 Fan tundra (Skidoo has used that motor forever). Never ran right, dealer hasn't ever been able to fix it. He's still fighting that POS 4 or 5 years later.

Another buddy bought a brand new 600 ACE tundra. Awesome machine.... stopped dead in a creek bottom and would not turn over. No pull start, dead machine. Had to walk back to his cabin and then tow it back to the trailer, haul it to town, where they replaced a relay and it was back in business. He carries spare relays now...grin.

I think it was 07 when Skidoo "forgot" to put assembly lube in bunches of their 800s? Summits were melting down left and right, and you were back at the mercy of your dealership.

Sleds are fun!
This is why I always carry snowshoes in the truck, and probably will have a pair on the sled too...