A two-stage model that fights you as well as the snow, a sexy but disappointing single-stage model, and a pleasant surprise in a corded-electric snow blower are among initial impressions from our recent testing. The latest batch of snow blowers includes models from Craftsman, GreenWorks, Honda, Husqvarna, and Toro.
The Honda HS724, pricey at $2,200, easily threw the wet sawdust we use for testing the farthest of all of this season's models (see photo). Being a two-stage model, it has an impeller in addition to the usual auger. The impeller's size plus the narrowness of the chute accounted for the distance. But you'd better want that distance, because without a differential or wheel clutches to disengage the wheels from the transmission, this model won't let you free-wheel it as you can with most other models. As with the Honda HS928K1WA we tested last year, you'll need some serious muscle even to get the machine into the garage or shed while the engine is off.
Among single-stage gasoline models, we liked the look of the Husqvarna ST121E, $650, especially the LED headlights and comfy grip on the bail. But on the job, this Husqvarna's performance was no better than that of the previously tested Poulan Pro PR621ES, which scored rock-bottom among gasoline-powered models.
We don't expect much of corded-electric snow blowers, recommending them only for decks, porches, and small sidewalks with little snow—not for driveways. Yet the GreenWorks 26032 did surprisingly well for the category, besting even the smaller Toro PowerCurve 1500, $220.
In order to have results available when you're ready to shop, we sometimes need to test when snow isn't available. That's why we use wet sawdust. The variety we use absorbs four times its weight in water. Because of this, it simulates the wet, heavy, late-winter snow that separates the best snow blowers from less-capable models. It's also much tougher to clear than the kind of light, powdery snow that tends to fall earlier in the season.
More importantly, our extra-heavy "snow" isn't affected by the hourly temperature fluctuations that can significantly change the consistency of the real stuff and make fair model-to-model comparisons difficult. For example, under real conditions a snow blower tested early in the morning is likely to throw snow farther than it would in the afternoon, when higher temperatures tend to make snow denser and stickier.
Besides our testing with sawdust, we get to test snow blowers in the occasional heavy snow such as what an early Nor'easter delivered at the start of our tests last week. As we initially developed our protocol, we had our statisticians correlate the then-preliminary test results for wet sawdust with field testing in snowy upstate New York. Our crew put the machines through their paces on a 30-foot-wide airstrip and, with the more-powerful models, cleared a 220-yard path.
The bottom line: Our demanding tests yield accurate, consistent comparisons between models. A snow blower in our Ratings that can handle our simulation of heavy, late-winter snow has what it takes to handle what falls on your driveway. Before you buy, though, see our buying advice and this video on the pros and cons of the various types.