In the market for a snow blower? If you have a single-stage gas model, your memories of last winter’s victory over your best efforts might still linger. But even if you’ve merely had your fill of shoveling, there’s good news: For the same money as some of the better single-stage models, a two-stage model’s addition of an impeller behind the usual auger gives it more heft in lifting and throwing snow. Even a compact two-stage, with widths up to 24 inches, can give you the edge in the coming months. What doesn’t help, however, is that two-stage models are heavier and take up more space in a garage or shed.
We’ve added further detail on the models in our snow-blower Ratings to allow better comparisons. Here, in the meantime, is a primer on how a two-stage gas model differs from a single-stage in actual use.
Performance. Particularly with the widest two-stage models, snow removal is quicker—important if you’re in a hurry. The largest models throw snow the farthest, which keeps you from blowing the same snow twice in your driveway. And they offer the most muscle against the dense pile that municipal snowplows leave where your driveway meets the street. One we liked is the 28-inch Ariens 921022, $1,000 (see photo).
Maneuverability. Two-stage models can be twice as heavy as single-stage, but that doesn’t mean they’re twice as hard to move. Multiple speeds mean the snow blower can do all the work of getting the unit where you want it, and you can set the speed according to how easy or challenging the snow is. (The denser the snow, the slower the recommended speed.) And if your driveway slopes, the driven wheels can keep you safe. How? For my own hilly driveway on a busy street, I set a slow speed but keep my hand off the drive lever. Should I feel I’m rolling too freely and losing control (my snow blower is 190 pounds), I press the lever. It slows the unit to a more controllable speed, acting as a brake.
Other features. The beefier two-stage models have freewheel steering, noted in our Ratings, which disengages either or both the drive wheels for easy, sharp turning. The higher price of the larger models also gets you single-hand controls, which frees up a hand for careful chute aim—important for driveways situated near the neighbors’. As with winter viruses, after all, generosity is not necessarily a virtue.