Hey Zman - too me a while to get to this as its not gonna be short. ;-)
I love winter riding – when it is below freezing. No Mud!!!
Short answer: I have 3 pairs of studded tires, and I hate them.
I love Schwalbe G-Ones in the winter (see below)
And, no there are no cheap studded tires – they are super expensive unless you get lucky with a closeout. Those studs add a lot of cost.
But, here is all you need to know about buying studded tires
I use studded tires in the two conditions:
1) Fresh snow fall – I love riding in this and it makes a treck within a 1 mile radius of my home more beautiful than just about any ride I do.
2) When I am concerned about ice puddles. Glare ice is a killer on a bicycle. Usually from frozen puddles of water, they hide under snow and places where I can’t see it. I go down fast and hard when I hit these, tearing up the bike and sometimes me.
Flat frozen ice patches – even when hidden under snow – can be very dangerous.
For studded tires, I rather like my 160 studded tires (Nokian Mount & Ground W160).
I can high'ish psi in them and ride on rubber only – so the studs can’t slow me down too much. Or, I can drop the tire down and ride on the studs. These tires slide on ice, but are controllable.
I have the 295 (312) studded Nokian and they stick like glue. I love riding these on frozen lakes. I did an acceleration test on glare ice – under full torque I did a wheelie on ice! Braking I can lift the rear wheel. They can corner fairly hard and slide nicely. But these are just overkill for anything other than riding on a frozen lake.
I also have the 240 stud version. These don’t really have the benefit of the other two (in either direction) although they don’t slide like the 160’s do.
The studded tires are heavy, stiff sidewalls, high rolling resistance.
I really love ridingon the Schwalbe G-One in the winter. I can corner hard in freezing rain conditions. In deep snow, they pack up with snow which gives them great snow traction (snow sticks better to itself than to rubber). A lot of my riding is on frozen gravel – which is pretty rough (unlike summer when my gravel is typically smoother than asphalt). Those little nubs provide good traction on rough ice – and a smooth ride too. They are my goto winter tire.
Either way - Just stay off the rutted snow (unless you have a fat bike). That stuff is just a nightmare. I ride when the snow is fresh (preferably in an active blizzard) or when there has been rain and a refreeze (to wash away the old snow). Snow keeps the bike a lot cleaner than mud!
Studded tires are nice for extreme weather and short distances (and frozen lakes). For a fast riding longer distance frozen mud/dirt ride, I love the G-One. Nice smooth and fast over frozen ground.