What is a Snowcat? [Snowcat Review & Videos]


Snowcats are special vehicles designed to move on snow and rough terrain. These truck-sized machines usually feature an enclosed cabin and two (sometimes four) large tracks. They are used for various purposes from snow grooming to recreational touring. Depending on the purpose of use they are equipped with special accessories like winches, dozer blades, forklifts, decks, and/or cargo boxes.

If you would like to learn more about snowcats, this post is for you. We at PowerSportsGuide have compiled all the key facts about these amazing machines under one roof!

What is a Snowcat?

By the official definition, a snowcat is “a tracked vehicle designed for traveling over snow.” However, it’s safe to say that only the bigger, enclosed-cab vehicles are considered snowcats. Smaller vehicles with single tracks are typically called snowmobiles or snow machines. Snowcats are often referred to as Sno-Cats or PistenBullies, but these are registered trademarks that have been generalized to a certain extent.

These amazing vehicles have revolutionized traveling on snow. They feature a huge cabin for carrying passengers and gear. Since they move on tracks, they can go anywhere that other vehicles can’t. Thus, snowcats are used for many different purposes.

What is a Snowcat Used for?

Snowcats are used for many different purposes, such as:

  • maintaining snow on ski slopes and trails
  • search-and-rescue missions
  • polar expeditions
  • military purposes
  • agricultural, industrial, and scientific purposes
  • logging in difficult areas (marsh, peat bog)
  • recreational use (travelling, transporting skiers and snowboarders)

It’s safe to say that most snowcats are specially built for snow maintenance. These machines are also known as snow groomers or ski groomers as they can be literally found in every ski resort. What’s more, larger resorts maintain a fleet of these machines!

Besides snow grooming, snowcats can also move technicians to work stations like to communication towers or weather stations. Thanks to their low ground pressure, these machines can be used for various agricultural purposes, such as working on peat bogs or leveling sugar beet piles.

In addition, snowcats are typically used by the military as well.

What’s more, since there is no law prohibiting private use, more and more snowcats are being bought for recreational purposes.

They do a good job when it comes to transporting advanced snowboarders and skiers on difficult terrain. There are many attractive slopes for pro riders that are only accessible by hiking or snowcat transports.

Thanks to their enclosed cabins, snowcats are a great choice for families as well, since children can travel protected from the weather.

Why is it Called a Snowcat?

Contrary to popular belief, snowcats were not named after snow cats. Instead, the term snowcat is an acronym from the words snowand caterpillar, and for good reason. Let’s face it, these machines really look and move more like giant caterpillars, rather than snow cats!

What Does a Snowcat Look Like?

At first glance, snowcats look like huge trucks. But instead of wheels they feature two or four tracks depending on the model. Newer snowcats typically come with two tracks, but some vintage models had four independent tracks. Snowcats also feature a diesel engine, and a cabin for passengers.

Groomer snowcats are easily recognizable since they are equipped with a large dozer blade and a tiller. Moreover, some of them come with a winch to support the machine on steep slopes.

How does a Snowcat Work?

How does a snowcat work? In a nutshell, snowcats are powered by diesel engines that produce hundreds of horsepower. The drivetrain transmits power towards the tracks, which are driven by the drive wheels. The two tracks can spin independently, which results in excellent maneuverability.

Many owners say that the drivetrain of older snowcats works very similarly to how carbureted vintage trucks and tractors work. Thus, you can expect a similar driving experience as well.

In contrast, operating a new groomer is like playing a video game. You can literally control the entire machine with one main joystick, while all the info you need is displayed on large screens.

The driver can operate the machine from a heated cabin, which keeps cold, wind, and snow outside. The windshield is also specially designed for harsh weather conditions. It features external scrapers and special coatings to prevent it from buildups of snow and ice.

Snowcat Accessories

Since they are used for special purposes, snowcats are usually equipped with many accessories, such as:

  • Dozer blades, tillers, smoothers, winches (for grooming)
  • Boxes
  • Cargo decks and work platforms
  • Escape hatches
  • Forklifts
  • Ladder racks
  • Hoist cranes
  • Ambulance packages
  • Rear hitches
  • Trailers
  • Lights
  • Communications equipment
  • Alternators
  • And many other features designed for special purposes

How Much do Snowcats Weigh?

You can expect the average snowcat to weigh about 10,000-30,000 pounds. However, you can find some smaller models on the market that are as “lightweight” as 7,000-10,000 pounds. On the other end of the spectrum, you can find Russian Vityaz snowcats that weigh 61,000-128,000 pounds. Here are some examples of snowcat weights:

  • Sno-Cat 2000XL: 7,900 lbs.
  • PistenBully 100: 10,000 lbs.
  • Sno-Cat 1100E: 12,120 lbs.
  • Sno-Cat 1600: 14,000 lbs.
  • Prinort BISON: 21,825 lbs.
  • BustenBully 600: 23,270 lbs.
  • Prinort LEITWOLF X: 30,865 lbs.
  • Vityaz DT-10P: 61,000 lbs.
  • Vityaz DT-30: 128,000 lbs.

The main advantage of snowcats is their low ground pressure, which is usually only 4-6 kN/m². This makes snowcats able to move on snow, peat bogs, and other soft surfaces.

How Much Horsepower do Snowcats Have?

To move these incredibly heavy machines in the mountains, snowcats need plenty of power and torque. Therefore, these vehicles are typically powered with 6-cylinder diesel engines that provide 130-710 HP depending on the make and model. But it’s safe to say that the majority of snowcats have 250-530 HP engines. As a reference, here are some examples of snowcat horsepower ratings:

  • Sno-Cat 2000XL: 130 HP
  • Sno-Cat 1100E: 173 HP
  • PistenBully 100: 253 HP
  • Sno-Cat 2000 Trail Groomer: 300 HP
  • Prinort BISON: 406 HP
  • PistenBully 600: 455/512 HP
  • Prinort LEITWOLF X: 530 HP
  • Vityaz DT-10P: 710 HP

How Fast Can a Snowcat Go?

The top speed of snowcats varies widely depending on their age and engine performance. Many vintage snowcats can reach only 5 mph, with the newer models typically topping out at 10-18 mph. Some examples:

  • Prinorth BR 350: 11.5 mph
  • Prinorth Bison/Bison X: 11.5 mph
  • PistenBully 600: 14 mph
  • PistenBully 100: 15 mph
  • Sno-Cat 2000Xtra Lite: 18 mph

It’s good to know that the average “grooming speed” of these machines is about 5-10 mph.

Snowcat Fuel Consumption

As you probably assume snowcats use a lot of fuel, especially in the mountains. It’s not easy to give hard numbers since the fuel economy of snowcats depends on many factors. The most important of these are probably their engine performance, weight, snow conditions, temperature, altitude, and terrain. For example, snow groomer snowcats burn about 4-5 gallons per hour. But again, these are pretty average numbers.

It’s good to know that the altitude heavily affects a snowcat’s engine performance.

As a rule of thumb, the higher the altitude the less power the engine can generate due to less air density. This issue is even worse with non-turbocharged engines since they can only rely on atmospheric air pressure.

And with less efficiency, the result is always higher fuel consumption!

How Much is a Snowcat?

How Much is a New Snowcat?

Snowcats are huge and complex vehicles that are manufactured in a small series. That’s why these vehicles are so expensive! In general, new snowcat prices range from $100,000 up to $300,000+.

How much does a Tucker Sno-Cat cost? According to Fortune.com, the most popular snowcat for personal use is the Sno-Cat Tucker 2000Xtra Lite, which costs about $125,000.

In contrast, the prices of the largest professional snow maintenance snowcats can exceed a shocking $300,000.

How Much is a Used Snowcat?

Used snowcat prices start from as low as $10,000, although these are very old and outdated vehicles. The majority of used snowcats costs about $10,000-$100,000, but the asking price of professional trail groomers could be significantly higher. Finally, it’s always dependent on the machine’s features, age, and condition.

If you are looking for a used snowcat for sale, keep in mind that aged models require a lot of attention and care. It’s safe to say that these old snowcats are like vintage cars!

Thus, refurbishing and maintaining them is definitely a project.

On the other hand, a vintage snowcat could be a good investment, since their prices have skyrocketed in recent years. It’s not unusual to see a restored machine being sold for more than $200,000. Thus, it seems the market for these vintage machines is growing.

On the other hand, keep in mind that finding parts for these old vehicles is becoming harder year-after- year. The tracks on these machines need a lot of maintenance, which requires special tools in many cases.

How do You Become a Snowcat Driver?

If you want to become a snowcat driver, you can sign up as a professional driver at a ski resort or other places that run snowcats. Your other option is to purchase a snowcat for personal use. In most states, personal snowcats can simply be registered as snowmobiles, while other states consider them to be tractors, cars, or agricultural machines.

Which vehicle a state considers a snowcat to be determines where it can be used. Where snowcats are registered as snowmobiles, they can typically legally run on snowmobile trails.

However, keep in mind they won’t fit on every trail! What’s more, trails always have their own rules and regulations, which may have restrictions on snowcats.

So, if you want to stay legal, always carefully check local laws and regulations before you hit a trail or any other area with a snowcat!

How Much do Snowcat Drivers make?

If you want to be a professional snowcat driver, you probably want to know how much money they make in a year.

Based on Salaryexpert, a groomer snowcat driver can make about $44,680 a year, which means a $21 hourly rate. It’s good to know that experience always plays an important role in salary levels. The salary of beginner snowcat drivers is about $33,318 (with 1-3 years of experience), while experienced drivers can expect to make $54,136 on average (with 8+ years of experience).

Who Makes Snowcats?

The most well-known snowcat manufacturers are as follows:

  • PistenBully (Kässbohrer)
  • Tucker Sno-Cat
  • Prinoth
  • Ohara Corporation
  • Aztec

Vintage snowcat manufacturers:

  • Thiokol/LMC
  • Cushman
  • Snow Trac
  • Formatic
  • Logan Machine Company 
  • Bombardier
  • Kristi
  • Frandee
  • Ratrac

Since new snowcats are very expensive, the market demand for used models is increasing. Are you wondering where to find a used snowcat for sale? Let’s see what your options are.

Used Snowcats for Sale

You can find many used snowcats for sale on any of the following websites:

Besides these sources, manufacturers typically offer used machines that were previously traded in.

Additionally, you may want to check the online forums as well as Facebook groups which are dedicated to trading snowcats and other snow maintenance equipment.

In many cases, you can also find used snowcats for sale on Craigslist, eBay, or other general online ad sites as well.

Conclusion

“Are Snowcats Real?” This is a typical question asked by people new to this world. As you now know, the answer is yes, snowcats are very real and even available for individual buyers!

These amazing machines feature two (or sometimes four) large tracks and an enclosed cabin for passengers. They are typically powered with 6-cylinder diesel engines that put out about 130-530 HP.

Snowcats are primarily used for maintaining ski slopes and snowmobile trails, but they can also be used for agricultural, industrial, and scientific purposes.

They can transport advanced snowboarders and skiers to amazing new slopes. So, it’s safe to say that these unique vehicles can be used for many purposes.

Drawbacks?

Besides their large dimensions and transporting difficulties, the main drawback of snowcats is their hefty price tags.

New snowcat prices start from about $100,000 can reach the whopping $300,000 range.

In contrast, used snowcats are available from as low as $10,000. However, these machines are quite old and need a “little care.” Finally, prices of used snowcats strongly depend on their features, age, and condition.

References:

https://coloradosun.com/2019/03/15/crawling-around-colorados-mountains-personal-snowcats-are-becoming-so-ubiquitous-they-even-have-a-jamboree/

https://www.popularmechanics.com/cars/trucks/a19061404/snowcat/

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-12-29/tucker-sno-cats-are-the-latest-toys-of-the-superrich

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