Bob Meyers is quick to correct when you ask him about the upcoming winter snowmobiling season in Maine.

“The upcoming awesome snowmobiling season,” Meyers pointed out with his trademark optimism.

Maine Snowmobile Association Executive Director Bob Meyers poses with a large circa early 1980s map of the Interconnected Trail System on Nov. 29, 2017, in the group’s Augusta office. Kennebec Journal file photo by Joe Phelan

And why wouldn’t the longtime executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association be optimistic? Three successive winters have dropped enough snow across the state to send snowmobilers into a frenzy from Arundel to Aroostook County, and there’s no reason to believe this won’t be another great winter in Maine.

During October’s annual Maine Snowmobile Show at the Augusta Civic Center, vendors were busy outfitting customers with new sleds and accessories, youngsters plopped atop demonstration models and perfectly mimicked the ‘brap-brap-braaaap’ sounds of a two-stroke engine, and there was a steady flow of the sport’s enthusiasts even on a picture-perfect 60-degree day outside the arena.

Snowmobilers are — pardon the pun — geared up for the coming winter.

“As an avid snowmobiler, you look forward to the winter,” said Dean Dawson, of Augusta, who would average 1,200-1,500 miles of riding each winter during his peak riding days. “The snow, the cold and all that stuff. You get excited. You want to ride.”

There’s just one small problem with snowmobiling in Maine — or anywhere else for that matter.

The source material is entirely organic. Without snow, there’s no sport.

A snowmobiler speeds across Rangeley Lake ahead of the start of the annual Snodeo on Jan. 21, 2016. Morning Sentinel file photo by Michael G. Seamans

“It’s all about the weather,” Meyers admits reluctantly. “We don’t make our own. Unless we have the raw material, there’s not much we can do. We have lots of land available for trails, and we’re very fortunate to have that, thanks to landowners of Maine. But it’s all about the snow.”

An ideal snowmobile winter shapes up as follows: Bitter cold arrives in December before the precipitation to freeze the ground, and then a couple of good storms come late in the month to provide the base layer of snow. From there, as far as snowmobilers are concerned, it can snow regularly right through the end of March.

Last winter was nearly perfect. A pair of big snowstorms hit the area before the holidays, and the snow kept coming — and coming — well into March. Aroostook County became such a popular destination, Meyers said, that lodging was booked solid virtually everywhere in the northern part of the state.

Maine has hundreds of miles of trails along its Interconnected Trail System, with routes reaching from as far south as Lebanon to the Canadian border in Madawaska. Without ever getting off a trail, it’s possible to tour much of the state, with stops in beautiful rural outposts like The Forks, Jackman and Greenville.

“If we have a good year, there are lots of happy snowmobilers that get out there and recreate and spend a phenomenal amount of money to do it,” Meyers said. “It benefits a lot of rural towns that don’t have a lot else going on otherwise.”

Brothers Jackson Presti, 7, left, and Sawyer Presti, 3, pretend to race child-sized snowmobiles Oct. 19 during snowmobile show at the Augusta Civic Center. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

Dawson, who is the president of the Gardiner Ridge Riders, the snowmobile club in that community, said that snowmobiling requires more than just hopping on a sled and hitting the trails for the day.

Local clubs are responsible for maintaining sections of trails in their towns during the offseason — clearing down trees and other debris, while also doing repair work to troublesome spots — and grooming the trails during the riding season. He estimates that club volunteers spend roughly 20 hours during the offseason doing that kind of work, while grooming takes place for three to four hours a night several times a week during the winter.

It’s a true labor of love.

“I joined clubs because I’m a snowmobiler and want to support the industry,” said Dawson, 48. “Two, I like getting out and doing the stuff in the fall and maintaining trails. It’s the best way to learn the trails that are in your own system.

“When we have a couple of bad winters, people fall out of it. Then you get into a couple of good winters, and people get right back into it. It’s the best way to get out in the wilderness in the winter.

“It’s fun. If you’re an outdoors person, it’s definitely fun.”

Show-goers look at trail groomers on display outside of snowmobile show on Oct. 19 at the Augusta Civic Center. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

Good winters bring snowmobilers to rural areas all over Maine, which is good for business, but they also present other challenges. With more riders comes more congestion on the state’s expansive trail system, and safety takes on a greater concern.

There were 10 snowmobile fatalities last season in Maine, the most since a record 16 snowmobilers died as a result of accidents in 2002-03.

“It’s all based on personal responsibility,” Meyers said. “Take care of yourself, and when you’re out there, look out for others.

“Never ride alone. Never ever drink and ride. Stay on the right hand side of the trail. Stay in control of your sled at all times.”


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