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'Tis the Season Not to Shovel

Bells and whistles. Snow throwers, especially two-stage models, now come with a host of options: headlights, heated handlebars, electric starters and power-adjusted discharge chutes. Depending on what kind of snow throwing you're likely to do, and how often you'll do it, these extras may make a bad job bearable, or they could be a needless drain on your wallet.

For instance, an electric starter is a great way to avoid a sore shoulder from tugging repeatedly on a starter cord in the freezing cold. The Snapper 24-inch Intermediate thrower ($1,100) sports an electric starter and a manual-adjust discharge chute that can toss snow up to 38 feet away.

However, an electric starter requires a battery, and batteries can be unreliable when stored in the cold and used infrequently. You'll also have to charge the battery before each season and potentially replace it every couple of years. Save yourself the hassle, and some cash, by opting for a Yard Machine 179cc 22-inch-wide thrower, which retails for just $529. It's got a manual starter and a manual crank to adjust the discharge chute -- no headlight, no hand warmers.

If you happen to do a lot of snow clearing in the dark, a push-button start and a headlight may be valuable. Check out the Ariens ProSumer 30-inch-wide snow thrower ($1,299), which offers those features, although without heated handlebars.

Why skip the handlebars? Because replacing the heating element is expensive and requires a trip to the repair shop, which could leave you empty-handed while a 100-year storm dumps on your driveway.

If you're set on warm fingers, take a look at the John Deere 1130SE ($1,549), which comes with warm handlebars, an electric starter and a muffler to reduce noise.

Peter McDougall is a freelance writer who lives in Freeport, Maine, with his wife and their dog.
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