1) GET THE RIGHT SIZE
A 500-cubic-centimeter engine is fine for mellow approaches and backcountry use, but if you plan to head up steeper terrain (e.g. lap bowls), you'll need at least 600cc of power.
2) BUY A BRAND THAT HAS A DEALERSHIP NEAR YOU
You'll wreck, break things, need tune-ups-you get the idea. You don't want to have to haul it a long way.
3) DON'T BUY ANYTHING BUILT BEFORE 1999
Sleds built in the last six years are lighter, sport better traction and beefier shocks, and are generally easier to handle than older models. Expect to pay at least $3,000 to $6,000.
Start It Up
Ask how long it's been since the machine was started, and then give the cord a yank. How many pulls does it take to start? If it hasn't been started in a couple of months, expect it to take 10 to 20 pulls. If it was running yesterday, 10 to 20 tries is a red flag.
Lift the Hood
If the sun isn't out, bring a flashlight (and a sledhead friend if you have one). Pull the spark plugs, and look at the pistons. Make sure the pistons don't show signs of heat damage. If they do, the rings could be damaged, which means less power and, eventually, engine failure.
Look for Wear and Tear
Make sure neither the frame nor the chassis underneath is bent.
Inspect the Metal Wear Bars
They run the length of each ski, and they're meant to get ground down-so the ski doesn't. They need to be replaced from time to time; if the seller hasn't done so for awhile, the skis themselves could be damaged.
Inspect the Vinyl
Ripped seats mean the foam underneath will soak up water like a sponge, making your sled much heavier than normal.
The minimum track length you want is 136 inches. Anything shorter, and you'll have a difficult time staying afloat in powder with a friend on board.
Check the Paddles
They need to be at least 13/4 inches deep for good traction in soft snow.
Tips provided by Dave Basterrechea, 32, who owns Pemberton, B.C.-based Cheetah Factory Racing (cheetahfactoryracing.com), a company that makes ski and snowboard racks for snowmobiles driven by pros like Seth Morrison and Shane McConkey.