Here we go.
Snowmobile aficionados happily predict that the Christmas holiday will offer the first really good weekend of sledding across Maine, even if rain mixes with the slight snowfalls expected by Friday.
“We are off to a heck of a start right now and more snow is only going to improve things,” Bob Meyers, president of the Maine Snowmobile Association, said Tuesday.
Thanks to smaller snowfalls and the blockbuster storm of Sunday and Monday, which dumped up to 2 feet of snow in Aroostook, Penobscot and Piscataquis counties, Maine’s northernmost snowmobile clubs have been grooming snowmobile trails for two weeks, said Mike Guerrette, president of the 130-member Madawaska Snowmobile Club.
Clubs farther south, from the Katahdin region to Augusta, started grooming trails Tuesday. Their volunteers plan to have them in good shape by Friday, said Meyers, whose association represents about 285 snowmobile clubs that help groom the state’s 13,500 miles of snowmobile trails.
Snowmobilers already are hitting trails, but not yet in sizable numbers. Still, the recent heavy snow, consistent cold and relative lack of rain are promising signs for the state’s $350 million snowmobile industry, Meyers said.
“Physically and psychologically, we are in great shape,” Meyers said. “The clubs are gearing up. You normally don’t see the clubs starting to groom until right after Christmas, but they are getting out and doing their thing now.
“The psychological effect on snowmobilers of seeing the snow on the ground, right out in their backyard, is really important,” he added. “It tells everybody that we’re going to have a really good season.”
Not that Carl Trask of Kenduskeag took much comfort in that. He, his 37-year-old son, Christopher, and older brothers David and Keith Trask went coyote hunting on their sleds in Charleston on Tuesday and had really rough going.
The trails and other areas lack a solid base of snow, ice or moist snow that snowmobiles need, Trask said.
“With the last big storm we got 15 or 16 inches of snow here, but there’s no traction to the snow. It just blows right over your windshield,” Trask, 62, said Tuesday. “Your sled sinks right to the bottom of that fluffy snow. It’s unbelievable. If you want to get going uphill, you really need to get a good start because if you don’t, you’ll get stuck.”
That’s why a mixture of sleet, snow and rain — if the rain isn’t a deluge — probably will help trail groomers pack snow, said Matthew Polstein, a member of Twin Pines Snowmobile Club and owner of River Drivers Restaurant just outside Millinocket and of Twin Pines Camps, which rent snowmobiles.
“It’s not unusual to get some December or early January riding, but as a business plan, we never presume to have reliable conditions until the third week of January,” Polstein said.
Last winter’s snowmobiling was so good it set records. The state registered slightly more than 102,000 snowmobiles last year, a record number, Meyers said. Nonresident snowmobile registration climbed 30 percent last year over 2006 results. That gives Maine snowmobile sellers, clubs and other associated industries “huge momentum” coming into this year, Meyers said.
He hopes low gasoline prices will balance the effect of the recession-addled economy. Registration fees, with which the state helps pay clubs for trail maintenance, increase $2 for residents and $20 for nonresidents this year.
“If people don’t go out and tear up what’s there now, the clubs get out there and start grooming and we get pretty regular snow, what we have out there now will keep us going all winter long,” Meyers said.