Snowmobilers ready to hit the trails in Maine

4:07 PM, Dec 18, 2013   |    comments
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AUGUSTA, Maine (NECN) -- The temperature hasn't climbed above freezing in Maine for an entire week. While that might have some people searching for cheap flights to Florida, it has snowmobilers chomping at the bit to get out and ride.

There aren't many tracks on the trails yet, but snowmobiles were moving inside the repair shop at North Country Harley-Davidson in Augusta.

"As you can see, all our work benches are full," said mechanic David Osgood. "This is going to be a really busy week."

Last year, more than 74,000 people registered snowmobiles in Maine. And many of them want their sleds tuned up now to play in the early season bonanza of snow.

Maine's 14,000 mile trail system draws people from around the country, but normally the trails don't have decent snow that sticks until January. 

Over the weekend, much of the state got a foot of snow.

"All the pieces of the puzzle are falling right into place this week," said Maine Snowmobile Association Executive Director Bob Myers.

Because not only is there snow cover on the trails, the lakes and ponds--popular playgrounds for sledders---are already forming good ice.

"Based on my experience as a warden, I would say having lakes, ponds and rivers, freezing up now is something we haven't seen in years," said Corporal John MacDonald of the Maine Warden Service.

Snowmobiling is big business in Maine. It's a $350 million industry that supports 2,300 jobs, many of those jobs are in rural parts of the state that depend on the income this time of year.

At North Country Harley, it's the sled sales and accessories that get the business through the winter months. Snow in early December is a Christmas gift for them and all the restaurants, lodges and gas stations that cater to snowmobile clubs along the trail system.

"Early snow gets people thinking about making that purchase and if it doesn't happen before January or February, people will say i'll wait till next year," said Pat Woodside, North Country's General Manager.

Despite the promising snow and ice conditions the Maine Warden Service is still advising caution. During the 2012-2013 season, 4 of the state's 5 snowmobile fatalities occurred when sleds hit open water or broke through thin ice.

"It's still early to cross big lakes and ponds," said MacDonald.
They suggest sticking to the trails for now. The way things are shaping up, they'll be plenty of time to play on frozen ponds later in the season.

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