PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Mary Henderson thought she had bought her teenage son the perfect Christmas gift. He was fascinated by snowboarding after watching the Winter Olympics and decided last year that he wanted to take up the sport. He took several trips to Big Rock in Mars Hill, rented equipment and had a ball.
“He asked me for a snowboard for Christmas, so I got him one,” the Presque Isle resident said this past weekend. “And now he is itching to get out on some of the larger hills around our home to practice before he hits the trails, but there’s just no way.”
There’s no way, because in Aroostook County there is little to no snow. A surprising late October storm brought a few inches to the area, but that quickly melted and little has returned since. Patches of dead brown grass are prominent in the region, and intermittent rain fell Monday. Far northern Aroostook has a bit more snow than the rest of The County.
Businesses that sell winter equipment and apparel are taking a financial hit because of the lack of snow.
On Monday, Big Rock was closed. A message left on the website illustrated the effects of January rainfall.
“Once this roller coaster of a winter finally bottoms out, we will renew our snowmaking and grooming efforts as we work to open the top of the mountain and provide the superb snow conditions that you rely upon,” it read.
At Gary’s Yamaha in Caribou, owner John Raymond said Monday that his business is “most definitely” down because of the lack of snow. The dealership sells new and used snowmobiles, parts and equipment along with other machinery.
“We have seen a decline in our sales and in our traffic in the store,” he said. “We should be in full swing by now. There is still plenty of time left in the season, but this still has an impact on us.”
At the same time, Raymond said the picture this January mirrors the one he saw last year.
“We didn’t get snow until late in the season last year, either,” he said.
“Because of that, everyone is afraid to commit to buying a new machine or even a used one.”
He said he is fielding calls every day from out-of-state residents calling to check on the snow conditions. So far, he hasn’t been able to give them good news. He has talked to other snowmobile dealers in the area who are in the same boat as he is.
“It’s hard and it’s out of your control,” he said.
In Mars Hill, Big Rock has been able to open some trails and lifts, as well as its terrain park. It has been relying mostly on man-made snow.
At Mojo in Presque Isle, manager Mark Fullen said he also feels this year is like rewinding to last year in terms of sales of skis, snowshoes, equipment and apparel.
“In previous years, our stock of snowshoes would be gone now,” he said. “But we really haven’t had a real snowstorm, so no one is in the buying mood.
“We did sell some winter clothing during the holiday shopping season, but most of our skis and snowshoes are still sitting here. It used to be that people would buy their equipment early because they were confident that The County would get snow, and lots of it. Not anymore.
“Now, it seems like people wait until after the first big storm or after the first several storms to buy.”
Fullen said he lives in an area where he can hear the roar of snowmobiles on the trails. This winter, he hasn’t heard any.
Jason Robinson of Presque Isle has been snowmobiling since he was 9 years old. He is 32 now, and he misses the days when a white Christmas was guaranteed and he could often get in a snowsled ride the weekend after Thanksgiving.
“When I was a kid, we spent five or six months snowsledding on the trails,” he said. “We spent our whole school vacation in the snow. It is so different now. You drive around and you don’t even see a snowman.”
Robinson said his Arctic Cat sled is 11 years old and he wants to buy a new one, but he doesn’t feel he can justify the expense.
“For the past few years, it seems like I’ve only spent three months or so using the machine,” he said. “And that was sporadically at best. It seemed like we’d get a big storm and I’d take a few trips, but then the temperatures would warm suddenly or it would rain and then the trails would just be awful. It’s a great hobby, but it’s an expensive one, so it is sometimes hard to justify if it’s something you only get to do a handful of times a year.”
Jessica Lewis of Houlton is an outdoor enthusiast, and the 20-year-old loves to snowshoe. She got a new pair for Christmas, and she is “dying” to strap them on.
“Just a few days ago none of us could believe that it was warm enough in Houlton to be out in light winter jackets,” she said. “I didn’t have mittens or a hat on. It’s nice, but not when you love to be out exploring on your snowshoes.”
Lewis said she only got into the sport two years ago, and hasn’t had much opportunity to enjoy it.
“Last year, because of the lack of snow, I think I didn’t get on them until early February,” she said. “It looks like this year will be the same.”
Back at Mojo, Fullen said he is hoping for a big storm soon.
“We aren’t hurting terribly, but we are wondering if this year will end like it did last year,” he said. “When it was over, we wondered what sales would have been like had it been a better winter.”