Sled Shopping 101

words:: David Mackinnon Photos:: Ski-Doo/BRP

Once backcountry riding gets under your skin, it’s only a matter of time before you’re scheming on a sled. FOMO, dreams of going pro, insatiable lust for spines; all roads eventually lead to two-stroke. But while snowmobiling will open worlds of exploration, adventure, and personal progression, the plunge into the deep end is terrifying. The water’s rife with fiscal irresponsibility, uncertainty, and logistical challenges, and jumping in means a major re-up on your ski-bum lifestyle.

Those of you seriously considering buying a sled probably feel a little sick. It’s ok, that’s normal– even Whiskey Tahoe gets existential at the sled shop. And just like when you’re riding in those poor-man’s heli-accessed steeps, that feeling in your gut is trying to help you make the right plan. You’ve gotta know your options before you drop, know what the snow’s like the whole way to the run-out. We looked at four inroads to sledding to help you choose the line that’s right for you– it’s only responsible to keep reading.

The Brand New Sled

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You baller. You just dropped $15, 449.00 (plus tax) on a 2019 Ski-Doo Summit X. 850, 165 track with the three-inch paddles– damn! And sure, you haven’t bought accessories yet, or figured out where you’re gonna store it, but if you can swing it, a new sled makes a lot of sense. You’re buying experience– the capabilities of your machine will help you skip a lot of the frustrations that come with learning how to ride, and it will be that much easier to access those legendary spots you’ve dreamed of. You get a full warranty, which is serious piece of mind considering sled repairs can easily run upwards of $3000. And there’s no mystery– you won’t hear a clunk, find out your A-arm’s bent, or generally wonder whether the rat-tailed bro you bought from took a few more jumps than he let on. But before you call your bank, remember that there are some unexpected costs. You’ll want to insure that beauty– call that $750 a year. Budget $450 a year for tune-ups, $400 for a ramp, $390 for your CFR rack set-up, $50 for registration, $60 bucks a day for oil and gas. Let’s assume you keep the sled for three years, and sell it for $8, 000 when it’s out of warranty. By our math, if you sled 15 days a season, your price per day is about $365.

Pow turns on the way up, and the way down. Sound nice? Get yourself an 850.

The Rental

Often overlooked, but actually a very solid option, the rental sled market can provide the dream without the hassle. Whether you’re living in a closet or just scored that WHA dream home, storage can be a major hurdle to sled ownership in a ski town. Or maybe you’re not ready to give up the Subaru lifestyle, and you don’t want to wreck your tranny hauling a trailer up and down the Duffey. Trucks are expensive, we feel you! Rental companies like Pemberton Sleds can meet you at the trailhead with insured, inspected, 850 Summits. For $360 plus tax per day, fuel included, you just sign the paperwork and go– that’s kind of next level. The downside? Well, for one, access for multi-day touring trips is gonna look like real expensive parking. And chances are you’ll be selective with your days. You might miss those short windows of magic because you didn’t want to spring. Then there’s the argument that your money doesn’t get you something tangible– but you’re woke, right? Material concerns might as well be lift lines! Anyway, the bottom line: $360 per day plus tax means your three 15 day seasons run a total bill of $18, 144.

The Rummage Machine

She’ll still go, but it might not be pretty.

Ahh, the thousand bucks sled. It’s a heap, but it’s your heap. And hey, in it’s day the 2001 Ski-Doo Summit was a beautiful machine. You’re gonna tomahawk at S-Chute, break down on the Ice Cap, and wonder why your friends with better sleds don’t call– but you’ll be out there. Nah, I kid. A cheap old sled is actually a really good option if your primary focus is still skinning. If you’ve got patience and a bit of time for wrenching, you’ll get to your favourite huts without the logging road slog. It makes sense from a safety standpoint, too– your remote extraction capabilities just went way up, even if you aren’t ripping shithooks on the lake. How does it affect the wallet in the long term? Let’s say you pick up a $500 parts sled to complement your $1000 baby. It ain’t worth insuring, so forget that. Registration, oil and gas, $500 bucks in maintenance a year, $100 in wrenchin’ beers per season– call it $135 per day for three 15 day seasons.

The Modern Used

The modern used will get you to all the famous hits, but your buddy might end up towing you out.

The used sled market is awesome. Snow machines are high-value enough to make the waters just a little sharky– it’s like high-stakes gambling for the ski bum. “3500 kilometres, barely past the break-in!” you’ll hear, “just enough warranty left to get to know ‘er!” There are deals to be had, though, and if you find the right machine you’re ripping for a fraction of the price of new. Put a premium on warranty– without it, if your engine blows that 163 track T3 is just an $8000 paperweight (unless you’ve got $3500 lying around). When you’re close to a decision, get a solid opinion from your sledder friends. Ideally, talk to someone who’s familiar with the machine you’re considering. You might not know the nuance of ETEC versus carb, but your buddy does– see if their favourite IPA gets that knowledge past their lips. The math for that same $8000 sled? We’ll be generous– no storage cost, no insurance, say buddy threw in the snowboard rack, split the cost of a top-end rebuild over three years, throw in tune-ups and a ramp, oil, gas, registration, we’ll say it holds $3500 value… you’re looking at about $280 a day for your three 15-day seasons.

Of course, some costs are exaggerated and some are overlooked– for instance, if you don’t have avalanche gear and your AST 1, put ‘em in the budget! In addition to Craigslist and Facebook, we checked out Valley Chainsaw, Cheetah Factory Racing, and Pemberton Sleds while researching this piece. All three are excellent providers and great options for your freedom pony needs.