The typical snowmobilers were older than they used to be, but helped inject $606 million into Maine’s economy last winter, according to the first economic study of the state’s snowmobile industry in 22 years.
The study, commissioned by the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, concluded that snowmobiling generated $459 million in direct spending during the 2018-19 season, directly supporting 2,279 jobs. The remainder came from indirect spending that supported another 1,060 jobs in the state, according to University of Maine researchers who surveyed a random sample of 421 Mainers who own registered snowmobiles and 478 nonresident registrants from 16 states.
Sledding is a cornerstone of the Maine winter economy, especially in Aroostook, northern Penobscot and Washington counties, said Joe Higgins, supervisor of the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands’ Off-Road Vehicle Snowmobile Program.
A study done by the snowmobile program, UMaine and the Maine Snowmobile Association in 1998 pegged snowmobiling’s annual economic impact at about $366 million in today’s dollars.
The new study will aid industry advocates’ lobbying efforts in Augusta, said Mike Grass Jr., president of the Maine Snowmobile Association’s Executive Committee.
The snowmobile industry’s economic impact is felt throughout northern Maine, but it relies overwhelmingly on volunteers who donate land for trails and time grooming trails. About 95 percent of the state’s 14,000 miles of trails run through private property, and the trails are maintained largely by volunteers who are members of local snowmobile clubs, Higgins said.
Mainers who volunteered to groom trails last year gave on average 39.3 hours per person, with some volunteers devoting as many as 200 hours, according to the study.
Since 1998, overall registrations have increased, and registrations among nonresidents have more than doubled, according to the study by UMaine researchers Ian Hathaway, Jessica Leahy and Mindy Crandall. When snowmobiling last season, nonresidents also put more miles on their machines than residents, the study found. Nonresidents traveled an average of 973 miles on Maine trails, while residents traveled 780 miles.
Of the 87,165 registered snowmobiles in Maine during the 2018-2019 snowmobiling season, 61,661 were registered to Maine residents and 25,504 to nonresidents. The state generates money for snowmobile trail maintenance and other tasks through registration fees. Residents pay an annual fee of $45, while nonresidents can pay $49 for a three-consecutive-day registration, $75 for a 10-consecutive-day registration and $99 for a full season.
Of the $459 million in direct spending, trip-related spending accounted for $209.5 million, or about 46 percent of the total for the 2018-19 season — gas and oil, restaurant purchases, souvenirs, clothing and overnight accommodations. Snowmobile purchases accounted for the largest category of direct spending, generating $132 million, according to the study.
The study also paints pictures of the average resident and nonresident snowmobiler as middle-aged, upper middle class and committed to snowmobiling. The average Maine resident snowmobiler is 54, while out-of-staters are 53 on average, an increase of about 10 years of age in both categories since the 1998 study.
The median annual income bracket of the survey respondents was $80,000 to $99,999 for resident snowmobilers (Maine’s median household income was $55,425 in 2018) and $120,000 to $149,000 a year for nonresidents. More than 37 percent of resident snowmobilers and 36 percent of nonresident snowmobilers own camps or second homes in Maine.
Few of the 478 out-of-staters surveyed volunteer for the snowmobile clubs that maintain trails — less than 8 percent — while 24 percent of the 421 Mainers surveyed said they volunteered during the 2018-19 season.
Extrapolating on those findings, the researchers estimated that residents donated approximately 562,000 volunteer hours last winter, and that nonresidents donated approximately 27,000 volunteer hours.