The big snowstorms of autumn are just memories in New England, where people who make their living off winter tourism are losing income.

A continuing dearth of snow in places that are usually buried by this time of year has turned life upside down. The weather pattern that left many northern states with a brown Christmas is sticking around, and the outlook for at least the next week is bleak for winter recreation.

Nationwide, the lack of snow is costing tens of millions of dollars in winter recreation, restaurant, lodging and sporting goods sales, experts said.

“It’s Mother Nature. She’s playing tricks on us, or something. Now it’s getting nerve-racking,” said Terry Hill, whose rental cabins are empty at Shin Pond Village, north of Maine’s Baxter State Park, which normally is alive at this time of year with the buzz of snowmobiles.

Parts of the Northeast got snow around Halloween and Thanksgiving that has since melted. Now, longer-range forecasts predict above-normal or normal snow amounts for much of the country’s northern half for the rest of the season.

Many economic losses can be made up, said Charles Colgan, an economist at the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie Institute of Public Service.


But that’s of little comfort right now in the Northeast, where businesses that depend on winter recreation find it critical to have snow by Martin Luther King Jr. weekend — about a week from now.

As of Thursday, only 19 percent of the nation was covered in snow, less than half the average snow cover over the past five years on the same date, according to the National Weather Service’s National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center in Minnesota.

Today’s forecast calls for the Northeast to thaw out from its first big cold spell.

The ski industry is having a tough time in New England. Resorts have a core of skiers and boarders who are season ticket holders or have slope-side condos. Those folks are going to ski because they’ve invested; what’s lacking are the thousands of additional skiers — the weekend warriors — who are less likely to spend their dollars unless conditions are great.

In Maine, as many as 100 people would be skiing on 12 miles of trails on a good day at Carter’s Cross-Country Ski Center, but the center has yet to open because there’s no snow on the ground. Worse, with no snow, no one is buying ski gear from the store, said manager Jesse Hill.

It’s discouraging, he said, given high hopes that accompanied the early snowfall in October and November. “It was just a big tease,” he said.


Fresh snow, said Matt Siekman, a skier from Portland, plays a psychological factor in motivating “weekend warriors.” He admits to a bit of angst.

“It’s mostly anxiety, but I try to remember it’s going to happen,” he said. “It’s just a matter of time.”

Bill Stackpole of West Gardiner loves to snowmobile, and goes whenever there is enough snow on the ground. This year he isn’t going.

“We need to do the snow dance similar to what the Native Americans did with a rain dance,” he said.

Stackpole said the lack of snow is not only bad for the riders, but for the businesses that profit from snowmobiling, such as gas stations, restaurants and snowmobile outfitters.

“It is the worst start to the season that I can remember,” said David Gouger, president of the Bowdoinham Snowbirds, a club that maintains 40 miles of trails in the midcoast.


Gouger learned Thursday from a fellow rider that there is only one place in the state of Maine where snowmobilers can ride: a 20-mile stretch of trail near Fort Kent. It has a base of about 6 inches.

“It makes me think about going up there, but it’s a long haul. It’s getting pretty desperate around here,” he said. “We’d hate to see a year go by wasted.”

Gouger said his club members spent much of the fall clearing trails.

David Carter, who owns and operates Carter’s Cross Country Ski Center in Oxford and Bethel, along with his wife, Ann, said, “The secret is to get people thinking positive. (Snow) is God’s greatest gift to mankind.”

Steve Capriola, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Gray, said there could be some light precipitation over the next week, but no significant accumulation.

“It has been interesting how we had that early snowstorm in October and then things just shut off,” Capriola said.


Portland got 5.2 inches of snow during a storm that lasted two days — Oct. 29 and 30.

Capriola said Portland had recorded 8.7 inches of snow as of Dec. 31. At that time last winter, 13.2 inches of snow had fallen. The normal snowfall for the October-December period is 15.1 inches. 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.


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