LINCOLN, Maine — Craig Guilmette had traveled about 300 miles to ride Maine snowmobile trails.
Guilmette spent $17 on gasoline to fuel his Yamaha snowmobile and $10 or so on snacks — two small bags of salted peanuts, a nutrition bar and a small bottle of Gatorade — at Why Not Stop convenience store to fuel himself. Located just off Interconnected Trail System 82 and Route 6, the store is, like many other businesses statewide, a gathering point for sledders such as Guilmette.
“It’s my first time out,” the 34-year-old Fitchburg, Mass., man said Saturday, explaining that one of three Bay State friends along on the trip had bought a house in Enfield just for weekend sledding jaunts. “Massachusetts has nothing for an [organized] snowmobile trail system, so if you want to ride, you go north.”
People like Guilmette are why state merchants see green when the rest of us see white.
Earlier snows and Saturday’s storm, which meteorologists at the National Weather Service in Caribou said left up to 16½ inches of snow in northern Maine, and the blizzard on Feb. 2, which left as much as 14 inches in southern and central Maine, created just about perfect snowmobiling conditions statewide — great news to a snowmobiling industry that generates $300 million to $350 million for Maine annually, said Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association.
Snowmobile trail conditions are good to excellent statewide, Meyers said, with the most up-to-date condition reports available in the Outdoors section of the Bangor Daily News website at bangordailynews.com/snowmobile-trail-conditions.
“Everything is up and running at this point. We have a fully operational 14,500-mile snowmobile trail system,” Meyers said Sunday as he was returning home from the 2011 International Snowmobile Festival in Madawaska. “This is one of those rare years where you truly could hop on a trail in Sanford and go all the way to Fort Kent.”
Some bizarre weather patterns had left heavy snowfall in Bangor, in Washington and Hancock counties and along the coastlines with snow accumulations tapering off to almost nothing in the state’s northernmost regions, the opposite of the usual progression, Meyers said.
“Everything was upside-down for a little while, but it’s OK now,” he said.
Kevin Simmons, owner of the Caribou and Presque Isle inn and convention centers, which have between them 194 full-service rooms, said Saturday’s storm would turn around what has been a flat snowmobiling season in The County.
“It definitely has improved the snowmobiling here,” Simmons said Sunday. “We are in hopes that with school vacation week coming up soon, news will get out that snowmobiling here is good. Hopefully, we will be in full force by the middle of the week.”
George Edmondson, owner of Greenville’s Kineo View Motor Lodge, said the snowmobile season started slowly and still hasn’t recovered fully, though parties from Pennsylvania had booked up his 14-room motel for the past two weeks. He blames the slow start on the lack of local snow and heavy snow in southern New Eng-land and southern Maine leaving good trail conditions easier to find.
“This is the first weekend that the town filled up. We had had a few sledders two weekends before. The comment I had gotten from one of the groups that came up from Connecticut was that between the gas and tolls it cost them $150 just to get to Greenville,” Edmondson said. “That turns it into a pretty expensive trip for people who are away.
“When people can ride in their own backyard they don’t need to come up here,” he added.
Mike Boutin, owner of North Woods Outfitters and Moose Mountain Inn in Greenville on Moosehead Lake, whose business has a trail that connects directly to ITS 85 and 86, said he expects the snowmobile season will only improve.
“The snow has been incredible all season. It’s probably the most consistent snow conditions we have had in several years,” Boutin said. “Midweek has been a little soft, but weekends have been very strong. We are running out of snowmobiles to rent on some weekends already.”
Other merchants said they are seeing good business from sledders.
Sherry Ryer, a cashier at the Circle K convenience store on Route 1 in Machias, said snowmobilers had flooded the convenience store and other area businesses.
“Business is booming,” she said.
In Millinocket, seat of the Katahdin region and center of some of Maine’s best snowmobile trails, Scootic Inn owner George Simon said that his restaurant was packed Saturday night. Of the 120 customers, a third were snowmobilers, thanks partially to a newly formalized snowmobile trail that connects downtown to ITS 86, he said.
“We are starting to see them really coming,” Simon said Saturday. “I have really seen a good influx of them over the last week. We finally got the snow.”
Simon said he recently hired two more part-time workers to help handle the crowds. Across Penobscot Avenue from the Scootic, Pelletier Loggers Family Restaurant started last week a courtesy van system to help sledders get downtown, restaurant co-manager Kathy Gagnon said.
They leave their sleds in the Pelletier parking lot or at their hotel or motel and get rides to and from downtown during restaurant hours in the 15-seat van, she said.
“We don’t pick people up at area homes, but we will bring them home if they have been here drinking,” Gagnon said. “It’s free of charge to our customers. It helps all the businesses around here because it gets people into downtown.”
In Medway, several hundred spectators attended the East Branch Sno-Rovers snowmobile drag races Saturday and Sunday, club volunteer Bill Stanley said, a light turnout caused by Super Bowl Sunday and national drag races held elsewhere.
“It’s all running good, but we could have accommodated a whole lot more people here,” Stanley said Sunday.
Club volunteers built a 2,200-foot ice track, the only such track on solid ground in Maine, to hold weekend heats. They hope for a greater turnout for the state championship race scheduled for Feb. 19-20 at the clubhouse, he said.
Meyers said he hopes that the state’s nearly 300 snowmobile clubs and volunteer trail groomers, who maintain the state’s Interconnected Trail System, will get more financial support this winter from the merchants they help and from the state’s snowmobile registration system. Registration fees help pay for grooming and equip-ment, he said.
“In a good year, a club will be reimbursed for up to 70 percent,” Meyers said. As of the end of January, about 48,000 snowmobiles had been registered for the 2010-11 snowmobile season, “which is kind of light,” he said.
Last year, about 87,000 snowmobiles were registered, and Meyers believed the all-time high of about 103,000 occurred in 2008-09. “Right now we are on pace to outpace last year for sure,” he said.