Snow Joe iON24SB-XR Review: Battery-powered snow blower says 'shush' to winter

It took a long time for battery-powered tools to gain the same respect as their corded peers, and one of the technologies that played the biggest role in their eventual proliferation was lithium-ion technology. The same energy storage systems tapped into by electric cars heralded a new era in longevity and capability for saws, drills, and impact wrenches, and also erased fears about over-charging and potentially damaging battery packs that were prevalent with nickel-cadmium designs.

Heavier gear, however, still gets met with suspicion should it come without either a cord or a gas tank, as I discovered when I told my friends and neighbors about the new Snow Joe battery-powered snow blower that had shown up on my porch early last month. Here in the frozen Canadian north, Montrealers have reason to be suspicious of anything outside-the-box when it comes to snow removal, as we get a regular winter blanket of wet and sticky flakes to suffocate us on top of the whimsical powder that populates everyone's holiday fantasies. Snow is serious stuff here, and clearing it out of your damn driveway requires either equally serious tools to avoid a sore back or a shovel-related injury.

I'd been hoisting my own shovel like a sucker for years now, as my own parking spot is relatively small and the contractor who clears the alley behind my building reasonably fastidious about taking care of business in a timely manner after each storm. Still, even a modest patch of ground can take an hour or more to clear by hand, so I was eager to put the Snow Joe to the test to see how much time and muscle fatigue it could cut out of my routine.

The Snow Joe model that I put through its paces is officially labeled the 'iON24SB-XR,' and it's the newest member of a small family of snow clearance tools of various shapes and sizes. The iON24SB-XR offers 80V of power, cuts a 24-inch path with its auger, and is advertised as being able to handle snowbanks up to 13-inches tall. It also happens to be a two-stage design, which means that the auger doesn't touch the ground but sits within a metal housing that feeds the snow back to a fan which blows it as far as 32 feet through a moveable chute. This lets you use it on more than just a paved surface without any fear of damage, which is perfect for me since three-quarters of my driveway is gravel.

The Snow Joe snow blower requires assembly right out of the box, and given the weight and size of the package I was forced to put it together within the rather tight confines of my condo's vestibule. This took me no more than an hour, and was relatively straightforward even without much space to work with. The iON24SB-XR comes with a pair of 40 V 5.0 Ah batteries that are shipped fully charged, and so once tab A had been inserted into slot B I dropped them both into the top-loading compartment, flipped the big red switch to 'on,' pulled up on the equally-red emergency stop button, and trundled behind the snow machine as its self-powered wheels slowly made their way around the back of my building and into my garage.

It was here that the Snow Joe would sit for the next 30 days as Montreal went through a very 'dry' period for precipitation. It wasn't until I had spent a week away on business in a tropical locale that Mother Nature decided to unleash a storm worthy of the iON24SB-XR's capabilities. I came home to a full foot of heavy, wet snow covering my car and clogging my parking spot.

I'm happy to report that the Snow Joe made short work of what would have been at least an hour and a half of energy-sapping shoveling. Within 20 minutes the snow blower had cleared not just my driveway but the alley immediately in front of it, keeping me well within the 40 minutes of advertised battery life from the 5.0 Ah units (there's also a 6.0 Ah option that adds another 10 minutes of power). I set the blower guide to its highest position so I could avoid picking up any loose gravel, and while this prevented me from cutting down to bare pavement it cleared more than enough snow to make the area both walkable and drivable. This decision also saw the iON24SB-XR occasionally unable to find traction for its self-powered wheels, as I had to hold the blower at the proper angle to give it purchase enough to cut through packed snow, but other than that it never clogged to the point where I had to use the provided clearing tool, not did it balk at the volume of white stuff I ran through it.

Now that I've firmly established that the Snow Joe iON24SB-XR is fully capable of tackling a decent snowfall without fear, I'd like to mention a few of the reasons why someone might want to go battery-powered over electric or gas when clearing a path through the winter months. The most obvious factor is noise: the Snow Joe is about as loud as large oscillating fan, and in fact you can actually hear the snow falling to the ground after it's been propelled out of the chute, which is not something that can said for the cacophony of noise produced by a gas-powered snow blower. This explains why the iON24SB-XR features a set of LED headlights so you can show off to your neighbors by clearing snow at night without having them call the cops to complain about the racket.

The next point in its favor is perhaps even more important. With the Snow Joe, there's no need to store gas in your garage or shed, deal with exhaust or fuel fumes, or smell like a refinery after spending 30 minutes behind the handle bars. Sure, it takes time to fully re-charge the iON24SB-XR's batteries – about 3 hours from empty – but you can just as easily run out of gas, too, and with the Snow Joe you're not stuck in your own driveway unable to head down to the local station and fill up your jerry can – you simply have to wait an hour or so to top up and finish the job. The lack of an internal combustion engine also helps keep the machine lighter and easier to maneuver, which will be a boon for smaller folks tired of wrasslin' with clunky blowers.

Is there anything that I wasn't completely pleased with when using the iON24SB-XR? The motor, which offers 3 forward speeds and reverse, can feel a bit slow at times when walking the Snow Joe back to its storage spot, and the decision to place the auger and throttle triggers underneath the handlebars instead of on top had my hands cramping by the end of my clearing session, as I had to fight against gravity to use the machine (not to mention the awkward side-placement of the auger safety switch). It's also difficult to see the green LED telling you that the iON24SB-XR is in gear in bright daylight, and since it must pass through 'neutral' when moving from forward to reverse there were numerous times when I clenched the left-hand trigger and nothing at all happened.

Aside from these ergonomic missteps, however, I was quite pleased with Snow Joe iON24SB-XR's performance. It did exactly what I asked it to do, in an acceptably short amount of time, and at no point did I encounter any issues even with the deep and wet snow that I was forced to clear. The price tag for the iON24SB-XR is a bit steep – at $799.99 it sits at the top of the Snow Joe family of throwers – but traditional snow blowers aren't any cheaper and don't offer the noise, cleanliness, or freedom from extension cords or gas cans that it does. Given its extensive use of plastic in its design, the one lingering question I have about the iON24SB-XR is how well it will withstand years of abuse in a harsh, freezing operating environment, a question I can't answer after only a month with the unit. You'll have to ask me again after we've survived a few more years of winter together.