Ski and snowmobile enthusiasts in central Maine are celebrating the arrival of more than 2 feet of snow in most areas in the past week by finally getting out on trails and slopes in prime winter condition.

The blizzard on Tuesday and another storm on Friday, combined with temperatures staying below freezing, have turned around a lackluster start that saw hardly any snowfall in December and most of January.

Area winter sporting industries stand to benefit. Many snowmobile trails have been open and people have been riding, especially in northern areas such as in The Forks and Jackman; but conditions in many parts of the state have not been ideal — until now.

“We got off to kind of a slow start this year; it was a bad combination of things,” said Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association. “We had a very busy fall because people were excited and we had a good year last year. We had some early snow, which is not necessarily a good thing because the ground wasn’t frozen and then it just alternated between cold and wet, and things were a mess. The ground finally froze up good and tight, and now we have this snow that’s going to stay.”

The snow was expected to bring high traffic to snowmobile trails and ski slopes this weekend, Meyers and others in the industry said.

At Sugarloaf Mountain in Carrabbassett Valley, several new trails were opened with the arrival of Tuesday’s snowfall — about 10 inches that day — and “the skiing has been great,” said Sugarloaf spokesman Ethan Austin.

With the possibility of even more snow on Monday, Austin said the mountain is hoping to open almost all of its trails soon — some of which have been closed because of rain and icy conditions.

At Eaton Mountain in Skowhegan, owner David Beers said snow tubing and ski conditions have been mediocre so far.

“I think this is going to kind of turn the corner for us,” Beers said of Tuesday’s snowfall, which brought about 18 inches in Skowhegan. The mountain re-opened for skiing and snowboarding on a limited basis this year for the first time since Beers and his wife took over the operation in 2008.

The snowmobile industry brings $300 million to $350 million in economic activity to the state each year, according to Meyers.

“That translates down to a lot of small gas stations, mom-and-pop stores, restaurants and lodges,” he said. “All of these things are easily accessible from the trails, which is certainly a huge boost for the economy.”

At the Inn by the River in The Forks, employee Jaime Shaw said the lodge and the restaurant have had a good snowmobile season so far, despite occasional rain.

“It’s been a really good snow season in general,” Shaw said. “The extra snow certainly helped. We have groomers out grooming and we’ve filled up for the weekend. We have a lot of people up riding that are really enjoying it.”

And while snowfall in The Forks has been consistent enough to keep trails in good condition even before this week’s storms, the recent snowfall is expected to help get the rest of Maine and New England in the snowmobile mindset, Shaw said.

“A lot of times we can have all the snow in the world up here, but unless people in Massachusetts see snow and are thinking snow — that’s obviously a big guest base for us — unless they’re in that mindset, they aren’t going to come,” she said.

At the Sunset Grill in Belgrade, owner Tammy Fulling said Friday that the restaurant hadn’t seen many snowmobilers so far this winter because there hasn’t been enough snow. The storm Tuesday brought a few snowmobilers last week, but Fulling said she expected business to pick up more after this weekend.

The restaurant near Long Pond is busiest in the summer, when seasonal residents arrive at their lake region homes and visitors begin renting camps on the lakes, she said. But there’s not much going on in the winter, she said.

“We get a lot of skiers, and we get snowmobilers. That’s pretty much what we get in the winter, so if we don’t get decent snow,” business is slower, Fulling said.

Before Tuesday’s storm, snowfall totals for December and January in Portland were about a third of the previous winter’s December and January snowfall totals. As of last Monday, Portland had seen 11.1 inches of snow in January, 3.6 inches of snow in December and 10.3 inches of snow in November, according to the National Weather Service’s preliminary monthly climate data. In 2013-14, 17.6 inches already had fallen in January, 26.2 inches fell in December, and November saw 0.5 inches of snow.

The weather service doesn’t have preliminary monthly climate data from its Augusta station before February 2014.

The temperatures this past December were also higher than in the previous December. The average high for this winter’s December in Portland was 40.7 degrees and the average low was 27.6 degrees, according to the preliminary monthly climate data. In December 2013 in Portland, the average high was 32.1 degrees and the average low was 17.7 degrees.

Sunday concludes an annual tri-state snowmobile weekend, in which riders from Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont can ride trails in any of those states without having to pay for additional registrations. With the increased number of riders expected from out-of-state and from within Maine, the Maine Warden Service issued a news release reminding riders to be safe.

“With the increased traffic anticipated during the reciprocal snowmobile weekend, we remind all riders to obey laws of prudent operation, do not drink and drive, and be mindful that this is a family sport, so please keep our trails safe,” said Maine Warden Colonel Joel Wilkinson in the release. “Pay close attention to ice conditions on all Maine waterways especially when traveling at night. We hope that enthusiasts participate in this great opportunity to discover Maine’s tremendous snowmobiling opportunity.”

Meyers also reminded riders to be safe and use caution, especially when riding near bodies of water that may not be entirely frozen.

“Here it is, get out and enjoy,” he said. “But be safe. Always check the local conditions before you go out.”

Staff writer Paul Koenig contributed to this story.

 

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm


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