As the sun rises earlier and sets later, the gentle nudging of warmer weather is taming the harsh conditions of winter.

This winter, most areas in Maine received above-average snowfall, but the amount of traffic on the trails is surprisingly light.

It is one of the state’s best kept secrets — great snowmobiling in northern and western Maine, where the snow lasts longer than in southern and coastal sections.

“We could easily be riding into mid-April, and beyond, because of all the snow this year,” said Craig Hill, the trailmaster of the Bowlin-Matagamon-Shin Pond Snowmobile Club.

“There is still riding in a lot of places in northern Maine,” Hill said. “I know a lot of our trails still have 2 feet of snow and if you go off in the woods, you can be up to your waist in snow. We have a number of lookouts on our trails with different angles of Mount Katahdin.”

Hill encourages people to see the snow depth for themselves by checking out the webcam at www.shinpond.com.

Fort Kent is another one of those areas where winter says a long goodbye. The Fort Kent Snoriders Snowmobile Club has almost 200 members and 70 miles of trails to groom.

There is a big difference in climate and snowfall between Fort Kent and Bangor. Depending on the direction of storms, snowmobiling can begin three weeks earlier and last three weeks longer than in more southern parts of the state.

There is 24/7 snowmobile registration at the Fort Kent Police Station. This is not surprising, since the police chief, Doody Michaud, has been the trailmaster of the club for several years.

The area is known for the warm Franco-American hospitality and heritage that permeates the County, where everyone knows your name — whether you are a native or a tourist.

There is something about the beautiful St. John Valley in Aroostook that makes late-season snowmobiling there so attractive and so easy to do.

Three ITS trail systems — ITS 81, 83 and 85 — either come into or pass near Madawaska.

“We are in the heart of the St. John Valley; it is just a great place to be,” said Jean Ouellette, a member of the Madawaska Snowmobile Club and president of the International Snowmobile Festival. “It is a very friendly snowmobile community — snowmobilers have everything they need here.”

“Near the end of the season you don’t have to worry about battling the blistering cold. If it is in the 20s and 30s, you still have snow and you don’t have to dress in layers and worry about the 30-below wind chills. The trails have been groomed all season and are well-packed. The trails freeze at night, so some of the best riding is in the morning,” Ouellette said.

The western Maine mountains and the Katahdin region hold onto rideable snow pack sometimes into April.

Typically, late March and early April can have some of the best riding, because the trails tend to hold up well as they get less traffic.

Also, as the snow pack gets wetter and freezes at night, you can ride off-trail on unused logging roads. If you do happen to stop off the trail, you won’t go up to your neck in snow and it is very unlikely that you will get struck.

The disadvantage is that you can run into some bare spots. It can be difficult to groom in April, as rocks and earth emerge from a snowy tomb.

But you can stop along the trailside to have hot chocolate and it is so much more enjoyable. You can take off your helmet and feel the sun on your face, rather than feel your face freeze in less than 30 seconds if you did the same thing in January.

There are stories about people riding in T-shirts. It isn’t uncommon for someone to ride a motorcycle in the afternoon and then get on a sled at night, once temperatures have dropped below freezing and the snow has crusted over.

The Maine Snowmobile Association website, www.mesnow.com, has information on snow depth and trail conditions.

There are some water holes on various trails and some bare spots, so it is best to call ahead and check with local clubs before making a trip with the sleds on the trailer.

Cathy Genthner is a registered Maine Guide licensed to guide snowmobile trips. She owns River Bluff Camps in Medford, located off ITS-83. She can be reached at:

[email protected]