Snowmobile enthusiasts are cautiously optimistic that Monday’s storm will kick their season into high gear but say that previous rainfall and Monday’s high winds could make trail grooming problematic.
Groomers start shaping trails between Christmas and New Year’s Day, and several areas within the state’s 14,500 miles of trails have begun grooming, said Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association, a group of about 30,000 snowmobilers and more than 300 snowmobile clubs statewide.
But the erratic snowfall from Monday’s storm — with the Down East area expecting as much as 15 inches and the Allagash region expecting as little as 4 — and the storm’s 50 mph gusts might leave the trail groomers unable to connect heavily snow-covered trails to those with less snow, the groomers say.
“We didn’t get that much snow and we still don’t have much snow,” Kenneth Michaud, a member of the Fort Kent Snow Riders Club, said Monday afternoon. “We only have about 4 inches of snow down at the moment. It’s more windy than anything, more like a fog. The kids have been riding the trails but it’s rough.”
“We have to take a look at the trails after this storm,” said Kevin Steward, the Lincoln Snowhounds Club’s trail master. “We have a lot of little bogs that we go across when we groom [trails]. We have to make sure those are all frozen before we get out there.
“There are people getting out, but this is still really early,” Steward added. “The people out right now are more than likely the younger kids and the hard core who don’t care what they run into.”
Snowmobile season is big money — about $350 million annually to the state’s economy — but depends almost entirely on nature’s whims. Storms earlier this month dumped more than a foot of snow on much of northern Maine, not enough for good trail riding but a good trail base, then rains washed most of it away, groomers said.
Last year’s sledding season started well but died from lack of snow in January, Meyers said.
Groomers need at least a foot of snow before they can make trails, and more than 2 feet is ideal, said Rick LeVasseur, president of the Jo Mary Riders Snowmobile Club, a Katahdin region group of about 100 members.
“I don’t think we will get more than 9 or 10 inches out of this storm,” said LeVasseur, who owns 5 Lakes Lodge on South Twin Lake near Millinocket.
The irony, LeVasseur said, is that higher-elevation areas about 15 miles to his west, toward Jackman, didn’t get heavy rains and stayed cold enough so that they have close to 30 inches of powdery snow. That makes for terrific sledding, he said, but at the moment those trails are inaccessible to snowmobilers in his area.
“These weather patterns can be funky, to say the least,” said Matt Polstein, president of the Twin Pines Snowmobile Club, which covers trails just outside Millinocket.
In fact, according to the association’s website, mesnow.com, clubs in the Moosehead region, including Greenville and Rockwood, report a great base of snow upon which Monday’s storm likely will create superb sledding conditions.
But other areas have nothing yet. As of Monday afternoon, clubs were only beginning to report conditions to the website, which serves as the state’s primary snowmobiling information service.
Heavy winds Monday and Tuesday could leave trails with an unpalatable mix of bare dirt and snowdrifts, Polstein said.
The weather forecast doesn’t offer much hope for snowsledders, at least not for the rest of the week. The National Weather Service predicts gradual warming through the week that could peak with temperatures in the upper 30s and light rains by the weekend, said Chris Norcross, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Caribou.
“Once this storm is done, there doesn’t seem to be any significant snow events over the next week,” Norcross said.