The state’s snowmobile industry had one of its best seasons last winter after enduring one of its worst.
Snowmobilers registered 85,035 sleds in Maine for the 2016-17 winter, according to just-released figures from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife — good news for an industry that supports much of the recreation economy of northern Maine.
That’s $4.88 million in registrations fees, which the state uses to pay for trail maintenance.
“It was a great year,” Bill Swan, IFW’s director of licensing and registration, said of 2016-17. “It was fairly consistent snow conditions for a fairly long part of the winter, so that really helps things out.”
The 85,035 registrations represent a 44-percent increase over the previous winter’s registrations. To find fewer than 59,000 registrations in a year in Maine, you have to go back to the 1980s.
The 2016-17 figure is the highest since the winter of 2010-11, when there were 90,892 registrations, according to state figures.
The greatest number of registered sleds in a single year, 107,285, came in 2002-03. The lowest number, about 40,000, occurred in 1980, according to newspaper records.
Snowmobiling conditions were extraordinary for a very long stretch of last winter, Swan said.
“There was probably never a time when people had a thought of going snowmobiling and conditions weren’t good,” he said.
Snowfall in Caribou, Millinocket, Bangor, Waterville, Rangeley and Portland totaled 628.1 inches in 2016-17. That’s more than double the amount that fell in those places the year before, according to the National Weather Service.
Consistent snowpacks were a key element to last winter’s snowmobiling. Caribou had more than a foot on the ground for 131 days, from Nov. 30 to April 10, said Corey Bogel, a National Weather Service meteorologist. The next-longest stretch was 120 days, in 1968-69.
“We did have some brief thaws last winter but it was never enough to really drop our snowpack down,” Bogel said.
Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association, which oversees the state’s 14,500 miles of trails, praised the “absolutely critical” efforts of volunteers from Maine’s 289 snowmobile clubs who groomed the state’s trails.
In-state residents pay $45 per snowmobile, and out-of-staters pay $99, for seasonal passes. Three-day passes are available for $49- and 10-day for $75, respectively.
Snowmobilers might want to savor last year’s good weather. According to the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center, early forecasts call for an increased likelihood of above-average temperatures this winter, with no “strong signals” pointing toward unusually snowy conditions, Bogel said.