It’s snowmobile season. Here’s what you need to know to get into a “new for you” model.

The snow is here to stay for a few months. It’s time to take advantage of it. “I’m not quite ready for the snow yet.” “Brrr, it’s cold outside.” Well folks, you’re in Alaska – get it.

Think about it; would you rather be in Los Angeles sitting for hours on the freeway trying to get a mile across town? How about New York or Boston in a blizzard? Winter in Alaska seems like a walk in the park compared to these places.

And – it’s a walk in the park if you have the foresight to find a decent snowmobile, or as they’re called around here, a snowmobile. Snowmobiles are of several types. You don’t need the latest and greatest tools to have a great time outdoors.

Evaluate some of the new machines that are available these days and there’s no doubt that “sticker shock” will immediately hit you and send you staring at kiddie sleds at Walmart. Think about it; your new motorized machine doesn’t have to be brand new.

Your new toy just has to be “new to you”. When you buy a new sled from the showroom, it should come with a college course in advanced electronics. Unfortunately, the book that came with the fancy machine solves the breakdowns with the advice to “see your dealer”. Invite it when you think of riding the back of the Alphabet Hills.

Most older sleds have a spark plug wrench, a 10mm/12mm combination open end wrench, a few screwdrivers and a pair of pliers in the tool compartment. No need for college courses. You might consider adding locking pliers, wire, and a small hatchet. This will probably get you out of the hills on your own.

If you’re new to snowmobiles, one of the new sleds is likely beyond your level of expertise. Heck, I’ve been riding machines for over 50 years and they’re out of my league too. Before you commit to buying a machine that can take you – in an hour – further off the beaten path than you can go back in a day, think about your goals.

The average rider puts less than 1,000 miles per season on their machine. There are many used sleds available with less than 3,000 miles. A look on Craigslist will find 20 year old sleds that have less than 5K on them. If you’re hiking established trails, pulling kids on tubes, or heading out for a day of ice fishing, you don’t need to be fancy. Brilliant affordable assets.

New snowmobiles cost at least two dollars for every kilometer travelled. To get it that low, you’ll need to drive a few thousand miles a year. A decent used sled will cost less than half the price to drive.

So… you have your new sled; and now? Before you take it for a spin down the driveway, drive it into the garage, lift the hood, and take a real close look at it. Sure, you did that before you bought it, but then you had a buyer glint in your eye.

The two items that require careful consideration are the wiring and the fuel supply. Unless the previous owner specifically told you that they recently replaced the fuel lines, purchase a new line and replace the old one. Also change the priming line, if necessary. Look at how the headlight wiring is routed. The most common point of failure on older machines is where the light wires exit the snowmobile tub and attach to the hood on their way to the light. It won’t hurt to wrap this part of the wire with tape, although it looks good. Use hockey tape, not electrical tape.

Familiarize yourself with what everything looks like. Every time you lift the hood it should look the same. Almost all machines built after 1980 have an oil injection system. Keep it full. Few older machines have low oil level warning lights.

One last thing before you go – support the rear end and inspect the undercarriage. You must be certain that nothing is loose or broken. Worn rear idler wheels are common. Start the machine and give it enough throttle to spin the track slowly to see if there are any wobbles.

When all is well, take your newcomer for a ride. The first trip or two should be near you or with friends who hopefully have reliable machines.

When you’re comfortable with your new toy, take the family out to play for a few hours in the snow. Snowmobiles make excellent portable rope rows for sledding hills. They can carry all your ice fishing gear a mile across the lake. A flat sled or a light drag pulled behind can give you an instant ski run.

Snowmobiles don’t need to go 70 mph. There is no need to “score high” on a mountainside or ride from Anchorage to Nome. Snowmobile hunting is not an owner requirement. The machines have been designed to allow you to go outside. Make sure you have the proper gear for the weather and your intended use, and you’ll find that snowmobiles can open up Alaska’s winter wonderland.

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