For more than 50 years, Hugh LeMaster has ridden a snowmobile on the Maine trails.

LeMaster, president of the Monmouth Cochnewagan Trailblazers, one of almost 300 snowmobile clubs in the state, said the major difference between snowmobiling then and now is the snowfall has become less consistent.

“If there’s snow outside,” LeMaster said, “you better find time to get outside.”

As winters become warmer and rainier in the southern half of the state, the snowmobile season in much of Maine is becoming shorter and less reliable, while trails are tougher to maintain.

Al Swett, vice president of the Maine Snowmobile Association in Augusta, said he hopes the weather turns around this month and gets back to “business as usual” for the group’s 28,000 members, who utilize a trail network that runs 14,000 miles throughout the state.

A lack of snowfall in central Maine this winter, until the blizzard at the end of January, pushed back the start of the snowmobiling season by six weeks, according to Swett said. Inconsistent temperatures and rainfall have made it difficult for volunteer groomers to maintain trails and post signs.


“It’s just because of the weather. It’s horrible,” Swett said, noting Maine winters over the past decade or so have been mostly mild.

“Last year, we had a really short season,” said Tyler McQuillan, president of the Sidney Trail Riders Snowmobile Club.

This season, the club only had three to four weeks of riding. McQuillan said the season “was marginal at best.”

In a good year, riders start in mid-December and can ride until mid-March, according to McQuillan. In recent years, there has been less snow and more rain, he said.

Although trails in some parts of southern Maine have closed, Swett said 90% of them remain open, largely because of volunteer groomers who use tractors with 12- to 16-foot-wide drags that smooth the trails for riders. The Maine Snowmobile Association holds events nearly every weekend and recently held a large, successful gathering in Millinocket, he said.

But the rain and inconsistent temperatures are making it difficult to maintain the trails, said Danny Swett, Al Swett’s cousin and a member of the Oakland Sno-Goers, one of the oldest snowmobile clubs in Maine.


“Once it gets past 20 degrees, you don’t want to groom because it ruins your trails. You do more damage than good,” he said.

Al Swett said it is important that before groups head out for rides, they check trail cameras and trail conditions, which the Maine Snowmobile Association updates daily on its website — — as it receives reports from clubs across the state.

Steve Groves, the trail master for the Hillandalers Snowmobile Club in Winthrop, said: “It’s more fluctuating in central Maine the way we get snow now. It just seems like our season comes and goes in the winter now.”

While many parts of the state are seeing a shorter season, it does not appear there is a shortage this winter of snow and people snowmobiling in Aroostook County.

Danny Swett said he heard all the lodging is full with snowmobilers.

“That’s big business in The County,” Swett said.


Snowmobiling is also a big business in The Forks and in the Rangeley Lakes, Greenville, Bridgeton and Millinocket regions, which have many restaurants and shops that cater to sledders and rely on them for winter income.

“They depend on us to help them make it through the winter,” Al Swett said.

He added the regions serve as a destination for snowmobilers, and provide good, hot meals, service for snowmobiles, lodging, easy refueling and park-and-ride areas along the trail network.

Cheryl Morton, owner of the Rangeley Town & Lake motel with her husband for the past 38 years, said business was slow in January, largely due to the lack of snow and the snowmobilers it brings, but has been increasing recently.

Morton said the motel’s been around for so long it is able to make up for a slow spell in another season with different customers. More skiers, for example, have been visiting the motel this year, she said.

“The snowmobiling industry is very important in the Rangeley area,” Morton said.


Snowmobiling contributes $606 million to the Maine economy each year, according to a 2020 report commissioned by the state Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

Another challenge facing snowmobile clubs is the loss of trails and open land as more houses and other structures are built. At the same time, new property owners are less inclined to grant public access to their land.

Al Swett said about 100 miles of trails have been lost in central Maine over the past decade as new property owners move in and deny access to their property. Many trails have been rerouted, but it is a labor-intensive process, he said.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about the landowner,” he said.

Clubs say snowmobilers might be pushed farther north for the colder weather, abundance of snow and open space.

Data from a 2020 report by the Maine Climate Council seems to support that approach.


“Long-term observations of snowfall in Portland show an overall decline of about 7 inches since 1940, whereas observations in Caribou show an increase of about 11 inches,” the report said.

The report notes, however, that climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions has led to temperatures warming and “winter rainfall events have generally increased.”

“Winter is both a defining season in Maine and also the fastest changing due to climate change,” the report said.

Danny Swett said he remembers a similar stretch of winters in the late 1970s, around the time when he first started snowmobiling, and that the 1980s then brought ideal conditions for sledding. He said he hopes better conditions are on the horizon.

Al Swett said there are few options for snowmobilers as they deal with and adapt to changing weather patterns.

“We’re at the mercy of Mother Nature,” he said, “and I hope to heck it changes here pretty soon.”

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