Raise a frostbitten hand if you like clearing snow. We thought not. Fortunately, the newest breed of snow blower tackles that woeful winter chore up to 30 percent faster. They're known as three-stage snow blowers, and you can hardly miss them in our ratings. They’ve earned the highest scores and their own category.

“We think of these as two-stage blowers on steroids,” says Peter Sawchuk, our outdoor-­power-­equipment guru. “The faster push comes from the ­addition of an accelerator.” Sawchuk is referring to a third auger, perpendicular to the collection augers, which corkscrews into drifts and zips snow, ice, and slush into a discharge impeller to be jettisoned out of your path. Two-stage blowers have the collection augers and impeller but don’t have the accelerator, and single-stage models rely solely on a quick-turning auger.

The champ among three-stagers (and the top scorer among all snow blowers in our current ratings) is the Cub Cadet 3X 30" PRO H, which combines the accelerator feature with an extra-wide impeller for maximum power and speed. Handling is also superb thanks in part to the hydrostatic drive. But with its $2,400 price tag, you're paying top dollar for the top performance.   

A best bet for value and performance among three-stage snow blowers in our tests is the Troy-Bilt Vortex 2890, $1,300. The 28-inch-wide machine clears heavy 2-foot drifts with ease. Spending more on the Cub Cadet 3X 30HD, $1,600, gets you a wider, 30-inch clearing deck, better for long driveways. Power steering and single-hand controls make for superb handling on both models, earning them excellent marks in those categories. See "10 Snow-Blower Features That Matter" for details on these and other add-ons.  

If you're short on storage space, consider a compact three-stager, like the Troy-BiltVortex 2490, which delivers comparable clearing performance in a 24-inch-wide housing. 

Not everyone needs a three-stage snow blower, but if you get a lot of wet, heavy snow or have a large area to clear, you’ll want to consider one. Heavy snowfall is generally in the 12- to 24-inch range. If you live outside the snow belt but still get the occasional dump, a two-stage blower should suffice. The Craftsman 88694 delivers excellent performance for $900. For lighter snow, the single-stage Toro Power Clear 721E, $570, impressed us with its speed and handling, though its throwing distance was merely so-so. But with the money you’ll save, you can always hire the neighborhood shovel crew in a pinch.

Update: This article has been updated to reflect a change in our snow blower ratings regarding the classification of three-stage and two-stage snow blowers.  

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the December 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.