The steady parade of snowmobile trailers that eventually will head up Interstate 95 hasn’t yet begun, but the executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association says there’s nothing to worry about. Bob Meyers also says that it’s not too soon to start preparing for your first snowmobile ride of the season.
“It’s still early in the big scheme of things. It’s not too often that you see any of our clubs grooming [trails] before New Year’s weekend,” Meyers said Tuesday.
“They’ve learned, long ago, that they have limited resources and they can really get a lot more bang for their buck at the end of the season rather than grooming stuff that’s going to disappear at the beginning,” Meyers said.
The recent cold weather has been helpful, according to Meyers, but heavy rain two weeks ago and more rain this week have delayed the start of the season for all but the most eager sledders.
“They have been doing, from what I understand, a little bit of grooming in Jackman and up around the north end of Moosehead Lake,” Meyers said. “But everyone got rained out a week ago. The cold weather was really welcomed and now it’s just a matter of time.”
Maine’s snowmobile industry is a major money producer for many cities and towns in northern Maine, and Meyers says snowmobilers benefit from a well-organized community of their peers.
“We have 291 clubs statewide. It’s about 13,000 families and 2,200 businesses,” he said. “Collectively, those folks are maintaining 14,500 miles of trails, Mother Nature permitting.”
And while sledders wait for Mother Nature to provide a nice base of snow on those trails, there are several things that riders can do to make sure their winter excursions are enjoyable.
Here, courtesy of Meyers, is a list of preseason chores that will keep riders busy until the snow flies:
ä Be an early bird. “The first thing they want to do is register [their snowmobile] so they can get the money into the system,” Meyers said, explaining that clubs receive the bulk of the money used to groom trails from registration fees paid by sledders.
“That is the money that’s going to help keep the trails nice all season,” Meyers said. “And it makes it a lot easier for the people running that [grooming] program if they know what they’re dealing with instead of having to wait until February or March.”
ä See a mechanic — or be your own mechanic. “The next thing is to make absolutely certain that your machine is in good working condition,” Meyer said.
Your local snowmobile dealer can help you out with this, but many snowmobilers take care of the maintenance themselves.
“All of the basic things need to be done. Check your spark plugs. Get the machine tuned up. Get it lubed. Make sure you’ve got good gas in there. And just make sure everything’s in proper working condition,” Meyers said.
In addition, Meyers said snowmobilers should check all of their gear to make sure it’s still in good shape. Boots, helmets, gloves and suits all deserve a close inspection.
“When it snows, you get excited, you hop on the machine and you get 10 miles out into the middle of nowhere and then you have a breakdown,” Meyers said.
ä Relearn the basics. “Take a few minutes to review safety,” Meyers advises. “It’s so easy, and once again, what we’ve found over the years is the most dangerous times of the season are the very beginning and the very end.”
Meyers said the basic safety rules are pretty simple. When riders follow them, the trails get safer.
“Don’t drink and drive. Absolutely not,” Meyers said. “Stay on the right-hand side of the trail. Make sure that you’re operating at a speed that you have the sled under control.”
Even if riders think they’ve got a trail to themselves, that can change in an instant, Meyers points out.
“You’ve got to remember, you’ve got 100,000 other people out there and there’s 14,000 miles of trail,” he said.
ä Make like a Boy Scout: Be prepared. “What we have found that even relatively minor accidents and injuries can get serious real quick when you discover that help is several hours away, and it can be,” Meyers said.
He advises sledders to take a survival kit with them on every ride, similar to the way hunters and hikers often do.
“At a bare minimum, people should have a first-aid kit, they should have something to drink, they should have something to eat,” he said. “They should make sure they have matches and a flashlight … and a map.”
Many modern outdoors enthusiasts also head into the woods with a global positioning system that theoretically will tell them where they are, and which direction they should head to their destination.
Meyers had a word of caution about that trend, however.
“If you bring a GPS, make sure you know how to use the darned thing,” he said with a chuckle.