Join Date: Mar 2014
Location: Lowell area, MA
Scrolling down through their current website list, probably the 20" Sno-Tek. It's the cheapest machine from a brand that I feel good about. But that $499 seems to be a sale price, vs $599 usually.
At 136cc, it's cheap, but certainly not powerful. But you have to get to $699 before you can get a 24" Sno-Tek, or 24" Ariens Classic, each of which have 208cc engines. Since they're the same price, I'd go with the 24" Ariens Classic, even if they were the exact same machine (the specs I compared quickly seemed to match), just because Sno-Tek is their low-end line.
Those would be my HD answers, I suppose, depending on what the budget would allow.
You can clear an 18" storm with a 136cc blower, though you'll spend a long time doing it. But it would still beat shoveling! Less powerful machines will require clearing more often, and/or taking narrower cuts. More money gets more power, which will save time, and make it a more-pleasant process. So the buyer would have to decide based on their priorities.
And, like you said, we're often biased towards used machines. I spent less than any of these on my 24" 318cc OHV 10hp Ariens, and I just wait until the end of pretty much every storm, and go clear once. But it needed some work when I bought it, of course.
As for there being no love for Sno-Teks, I'll say that I at least don't see much discussion of them here. Maybe they just don't sell a lot of them, vs the "normal" Ariens machines?
Ariens 1024 Pro
Toro Power Clear 221QR
Toro Power Curve 1800