When you pick out a snowmobile, buying one specific to how you will ride it is crucial. There are four main types of snowmobiles, Trail, Crossover, Mountain, and Utility. Each has unique characteristics suited for the particular type of ridding. For example, a trail snowmobile will have a 42" front end making it very stable in corners. A mountain front end can get as skinny as 34", making it a handful on the trail but easy to tip over and turn in deep snow. You must decide what kind of ridding type and terrain you want to do before you purchase a machine to pick one best suited for you.
The most common snowmobile type and ridding are trail. These snowmobiles are built for the extensive trail network in North America's Midwest and East Coast. This ridding can range from slow-paced sightseeing to full-throttle touring. Trail networks have direct access to locations for gas, food, and local attractions. It's all part of a grassroots effort that secures access to private land to create a ridding network. This ridding can be as demanding as you want it to be. Beginners like the low-effort, easy-riding trail riders offer. The more experienced riders can make it as physically demanding as they want with higher horsepower machines and aggressive suspension. It has something to offer everyone wanting to get outside in the winter.
A typical trail machine ranges in motor size from 400cc to 300hp turbo 4 stroke motors. Track length is 120-137 with a lug height ranging from .91-1.5".
With the popularity of off-trail riding rising, manufacturers made machines that could handle both on and off-trail riding. These machines have longer tracks and sometimes taller lugs than trail machines allowing them to float better in deep snow. This ridding is ideal for the adventurer that is up for anything. The difficulty of off-trail conditions mainly depends on snow conditions and ridding area. A foot of snow above a packed base is easy for most on simple terrain. Deep snow days can leave a beginner spending most of the day digging out their snowmobile than ridding it. Some crossover trail sleds are more trail-friendly than others. For those that want to primarily off-trail, look for a crossover with a 40" or less ski stance. This makes the sled easier to roll over for powder turns but more tippy on the rail. For those that have more trail in mind, look for machines with a 42" wide stance. The main sacrifice with these sleds over trail sleds is they lack a coupled suspension which keeps the trail sled's front end planted on the ground. With the longer track, steering is a higher effort activity that demands careful throttle control.
The typical crossover machine has a motor size of 600cc to 4 stroke turbo. If you are serious about off-trail, avoid the 4 strokes as their extra weight makes them tough to dig out. The typical track length for these machines is 137-146, with a lug height of 1.25-2".
If you are located in the western part of the country, you are most likely to be found on a mountain sled. These snowmobiles have long tracks with tall lugs to handle the deep snow and mountain terrain. For a beginner, these snowmobiles can be a lot to handle. To get into mountain riding, it's recommended that you learn from someone with significant experience with deep snow riding and the backcountry. This type of riding requires much more education and preparation than trail and off-trail riding of the Midwest and East Coast. Avalanches are a considerable risk. Navigation skills are crucial because there is little to no cell signal, and you can be many miles from any road. The mountain snowmobiles typically have at least a 146" track ranging up to 175" and a lug between 2-3". The standard ski stance is below 40". The skinny ski stance and long track make these machines a handful to handle on the trails and do not corner like a trail sled. If you are in the midwest or east coast, I recommend sticking to a crossover first, as they are more than capable of handling deep snow. Deep snow riding is not for everyone. It is a high effort level and requires some serious fitness. It is some of the most rewarding riding and can take you to some seriously breathtaking places.
A mountain sled will be found to have at least a 600cc motor and go up to 850cc 2-stroke turbos. 4 stroke machines are not common in this sector as they are much heavier and are a nightmare to get unstuck. These machines have longer tracks between 146-175" with lugs between 2-3".
Utility snowmobiles have the largest variation as they are used in various applications. These machines are not ideal for recreation and serve the purpose of travel or transport on snow. These sleds can have low-power fan motors to high horsepower four-stroke turbo motors. The tracks on these sleds are also unique. Many are wider than trail and mountain sleds. This increases the surface area of the track to keep them on top of the snow. These machines are usually a lot heavier than a recreational snowmobile! It is also common for utility snowmobiles to be towing something. This ranges from ice shacks on a lake to sleds filled with logs. Chances are, you are here for the recreation side of snowmobiling and do not need a utility sled. Also, do not try and turn one of these snowmobiles into a full-time recreation vehicle. The way they are built makes it impossible to match the attributes of a snowmobile meant for fun.
When assessing what kind of riding you want to do, trail riding is the most common and most accessible. If the idea of off-trail riding excites you, remember there will be a learning curve, and you will get stuck. Compensating by buying bigger lugs and longer tracks will not cover up bad ridding techniques. Be prepared for a lot of digging out your machine and a full-blown workout. Even as you progress, the best riders still get stuck! There is nothing better than having a snowmobile that matches your riding style. It becomes an extension of you, boosting confidence and fun factor!