Snowmobile conditions in central Maine are deteriorating as temperatures rise, but in some northern and western parts of the state, riders are optimistic that the season could stretch into May.

“It’s really been an extraordinary winter, just a good old-fashioned winter like we haven’t seen in a long time,” said Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association. “I’ve had more than a few people say this is the best snowmobiling they’ve seen in about 20 years.”

The large amount of snow and cold weather have also helped the industry, which supports hundreds of small towns and businesses along the state’s 14,000 miles of snowmobile trails – all of which were open this year.

“At some point this winter every single trail in the state was up and running. Everywhere from York County up to far northern Aroostook County people were out riding on groomed trails, and whenever people can ride locally, that’s a good thing,” Meyers said.

In some parts of northern Somerset and Franklin counties, like Jackman, The Forks and Kingfield, there is still plenty of snow and clubs expect the season to stretch into May, if they have the money to keep grooming trails. In other areas, including southern and most of central Maine, the season is over.

Once the trails dry out, they will reopen for ATVs, though ATV clubs are saying the long winter will mean their season will start later.

Overall, the weather contributed to great snowmobile riding and a relatively safe season, despite a slight rise in the number of crashes and accident-related deaths.

Riders got a good start to the snowmobile season in mid- December, when a storm on Dec. 15 left about a foot of snow in central Maine and was closely followed by another storm on Dec. 17, according to the National Weather Service. Later that month, an ice storm left about an inch of freezing rain that solidified on power lines and roads, making conditions dangerous and cutting off power to thousands of people right before Christmas.

‘PILES AND PILES OF SNOW’

Looking back on the storm, Meyers said it seemed awful at the time but is actually what has allowed the snowmobile season to last so long.

“There are still parts of the state that have piles and piles of snow. It helps that there is a base layer of snow under the ice from that storm, plus more snow on top of it,” he said.

It’s not a surprise that snowmobile registrations are up 3 percent from last year, according to Mark Latti, spokesman for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. There were 73,904 registrations at the end of March, compared to 71,474 in March 2013, he said.

“Whenever we see a lot of snow, registrations always go up. With the length of the season and the amount of snow we’ve had this year, it’s no surprise that registrations were up,” said Latti.

Snowmobiling on average generates about $350 million annually in the state of Maine, according to the Maine Tourism Association, making it one of the state’s major tourism attractions.

“This is the type of season a lot of small businesses need to make their year hold. It wasn’t spectacular, but there was a lot of activity and that’s good for small businesses, towns and the clubs,” said Meyers.

Kate Wolf, an employee at Bishop’s Country Inn Motel in Jackman, said that local snowmobile clubs were still sending groomers out on the trails on Wednesday. There has been rain in the area, but there is so much snow that most of the trails are still in good condition, she said.

Wolf said she recently got off the phone with people who asked if they could come up to get their last ride in. “We thought that would have happened three weeks ago,” she said.

In The Forks, there is still about 2 feet of snow on the trails, although the local club, Northern Outdoors Snowmobile Club, stopped grooming in early April, said Russell Walters, president and co-owner of the club and attached resort, Northern Outdoors. The resort also closed in early April and plans to reopen by May 2 for white-water rafting season.

STILL PLENTY OF RIDING

“People are still riding, there will be diehards out there and there’s still plenty of riding,” said Walters. “We were open last weekend and we did see a fair amount of day traffic.”

The season started off slowly because of the extremely cold weather, but the significant snow in areas south of The Forks made it possible for more riders to come to The Forks from central Maine, said Walters.

Almost all clubs in the state have stopped grooming trails, and in central Maine, trails are fading and most have been closed for the season, but farther north riders are still coming for one last ride, according to local club officials.

The Solon Snow Hawks, who maintain trails along the ITS 87 and other local trails, announced last week that they will be closing trails. Although there are still some wooded areas where the snow cover is good, grassy patches are starting to show up and the club usually looks for a foundation of 8 to 10 inches of snow to run a groomer, said President Todd Dixon.

In Kingfield, groomers have also stopped running but there is plenty of snow for riding, said Tom Boyce, a groomer operator on ITS 115, a section of Maine’s Interconnected Trail System

BE CAREFUL

With the extended season, the Maine Warden Service is also warning riders to be cautious of riding on trails. Riders in the northern part of the state should be aware of standing water on trails, obstacles such as stumps and rocks, protruding from the snow and areas of open water where ice may be melting, officials said.

Rachel Ohm can be contacted at 612-2368 or at:

rohm@centralmaine.com