“Folks,” a Gorham snowmobiling club posted somewhat sternly on Facebook last week, “the trails are not open.”

A runner jogs past the Public Market House in Monument Square in Portland on Friday morning. Last month, 5.1 inches of snow fell in Maine’s largest city – generally, it has 14.8 inches. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Defying the ongoing snow deficit, some people had traveled out on mud instead. Across the state right now, in the middle of Maine’s fastest-warming season, mud abounds and more rain is on the way. 

The snow statistics in and around Portland have been particularly stark: In October, Portland had no snow versus an average of 1.1 inches; in November, 0.7 inches compared to the average 2 inches, and last month, 5.1 inches of snow fell in Portland – generally, the city has 14.8 inches. 

By mid-December, Bangor, which would usually have had around 9 inches of snow, had but 1 inch. Between the beginning of October and the end of December, Caribou had 11.3 inches of snow; normally it gets about 17 in the same period.

There is no mystery here. Maine has lost three weeks of winter in the past 100 years. The effects of these conditions on a host of popular pursuits central to our state’s identity – skiing, ice fishing, skating, dog sledding and more – are clear.

Our report on the pronounced lack of snow last Sunday featured the voices of a host of snowmobilers, cross-country ski and snowshoe trail owners and operators, some optimistic, some pessimistic. “Keep thinking positive!” said one. “Mother Nature has not been good to us here in Maine,” said another.


Those lamenting the scarcity of snow issued warnings about everything from the creep of seasonal depression without outdoor activities to head it off, to the fact that not only those enterprises directly reliant on snow but also other local businesses reliant on custom from winter tourism would take a hit. One Westbrook farm that opens trails in the winter said it would be falling back on “agricultural interests” to pay the bills.

As more and more plans or models are waylaid by volatile weather that is increasingly either too moderate or too extreme, a fallback plan is now a must for anybody financially dependent on a blanket of snow, or even a traditional Maine winter.

All of the signs and available data indicate that thinking positive will not cut it. 

East Coast ski resorts are under pressure; snow is limited, and in some cases temperatures have been too warm for (frighteningly energy- and water-intensive) snow guns to function effectively, leading to closures in prime weeks. 

Across Europe, unseasonably mild conditions in recent weeks have led to widespread suspension of ski tracks and runs. From Austria and Bosnia-Herzegovina to France and Germany, grass is on vivid display on typically blanketed hills and mountains. 

At “popular skiing meccas,” people have been making do on thin strips of barely surviving artificial snow. By the end of the century, one professor of climate science told the Associated Press, “skiing in the Alps as we know it” will be over. “I believe it would be good for us to get away from the term ‘winter sports,’ ” Austrian ski-jumping coach Alexander Stöckl, who has coached the Norwegian national team for more than 10 years, said last November. In his line of skiing, mats already are in widespread use.

Where does this growing resignation leave Maine? 

For the winter recreation economy, just one sector facing down the ill effects of climate change, it comes back to a word many of us are tired of hearing: diversification. 

No matter how effective our collective efforts at arresting global warming are now – and we have no choice but to make them as effective as humanly possible – what once was guaranteed is now a gamble.

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