January 27, 2013

Deirdre Fleming: Maine snowmobile industry humming along as strong as ever

Snowmobiling in Maine is one of the biggest eco-tourism engines in Vacationland. But it's even bigger than that.

The culture behind the $325 million industry that provides 2,300 full-time jobs goes beyond what's spent in corner stores and gas stations.

A look across the country, across the continent, heck, across the planet, shows that the snowmobile faithful in Maine make up one of the largest sled rallying grounds the world over.

Maine ranks fifth in the nation in snowmobile registrations, according to the International Snowmobile Manufactures Association. And registrations in Maine top every Canadian province except Quebec, Ontario and Newfoundland, according to the ISMA.

That's pretty impressive.

Maine annually lures between 80,000 and 100,000 riders onto 14,000 miles of snowmobile trails. Not even Wyoming, Colorado, Alaska or Montana draw more sleds than Maine. Nor do British Columbia, Alberta or Newfoundland, where backcountry sled racing is like NASCAR.

But the popularity of the sport here means more.

According to the IMSA, there were 123,063 snowmobiles sold worldwide two years ago, and 75 percent were sold in North America, with the lion's share in the United States.

The ISMA, which gets its information from the four major snowmobile manufacturers worldwide (Arctic Cat, BRP, Polaris and Yamaha), also reports the economic impact of snowmobiling worldwide tops $29.6 billion, with the vast majority of those sled dollars – $22 billion – spent in the United States.

Here in the Northeast, only New York tops Maine in sled action, with more than 130,000 registered sleds. But Maine remains the undisputed king of New England snowmobile riding.

When you consider Maine's population size and that out-of-state riders have a long haul to get here, it's pretty neat we dominate the way we do.

Then again, Maine is the size of the five other New England states combined, and most of it is a vast, forested wilderness.

Before last winter's mild season, Maine's snowmobile registration topped 90,000 three of the previous four years, hitting an all-time high of 101,000 in 2008.

Meanwhile, Massachusetts had a little more than 14,000 registrations, Rhode Island did not break 100 and Vermont reached 34,000 on a good year.

New Hampshire boasts between 50,000 and 60,000 registrations, but with a similar population size as Maine – 1.3 million – and its trails closer to the Boston area, you might expect more from the Granite State.

But Maine still has three, four, even six times what the other New England states have for riders. And that spells big business, as well as big fun.

"You can see the economic effect of snowmobiling in every gas station, convenience store, restaurant, lodge and motel along Maine's snowmobile trails," said Bob Meyers, Maine Snowmobile Association executive director.

"The effect of a year like this one is terrific. You see a line of sleds at the gas station alone, and you can tell yourself, ‘40 dollars, 40 dollars, 40 dollars, 40 dollars.’ That's means jobs for a lot of small towns.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

dfleming@pressherald.com

Twitter: Flemingpph

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