Maine snowmobile clubs.
It takes many hardworking volunteers doing everything behind the scenes. Keeping the ITS trails groomed, twitching new ones is only part of it. Putting up signage, building bridges, feeding hungry trail riders. Raising funds to maintain or buy a new snowmobile trail groomer.
Snowmobile clubs do their part to dovetail with local Maine winter community celebrations too.
They are welcome wagon ambassadors to the out of town or state sled trail riders. Sharing the natural beauty of Maine by suggesting memorable trail rides to not forget to experience.
The biggest issue for Maine snowmobile clubs can be Mother Nature and Jack Frost.
Like farming, depending on the weather is always a gamble. Feast or famine.
Maine ski areas put a lot of time into setting up the snow making nozzles on the slopes. Only to see above freezing, too warm temperatures mixed with rain, wind and fog arrive to wash it away. The same happens to well groomed snow trails when the red rises too high in the glass tube outside the kitchen window.
The price of gas was more of an issue when two cycle, mix the oil with the gas higher fuel consuming snowmobiles played on the ITS trails. The four cycle machines are more costly to buy, but easier on the wallet to feed the octane.
Not so much anxiety worried about topping off the tank as you prepare to head off into the “Great North Woods” where gas stations are missing.
This blog post looks at the dynamics of a small rural Maine snowmobile club. How they start, what needs to happen for them to survive.
Maine land owners to allow snow sledders access to their property is key. That is the first step to setting up a Maine snowmobile club.
Back in the early 1960’s when there were 50 flavors of snowmobile makers, you made your own trails. You broke down a lot.
You tinkered for two hours to ride for one because snow sleds were not so dependable for long distance trail riding.
And if you are cold, you are not dressed right today or then. The getting stuck and digging out, tugging up front on skis and tramping down around the snow machine work out keeps you warm as toast. You learn to stay on the trail. It saves getting a hernia digging out and also pleases your land owner that lets you use their land. IF you stay on the marked sled trail.
In the early days of snow sledding, it was stay pretty close to home and on hard pack surfaces when you headed out snowmobiling.
I remember those early Johnson Skeehorse days when you thought twice about heading out across a deep, bottomless snowy farm field.
I heard stories about old hardcore Maine snowmobilers taking annual sled trips up into Quebec, Labrador.
Hearing the stories about breakdowns, incredible scenery and how they planned for the out of the country snowmobile trip. What they plan to do next year the same or differently. Like many things, ideas start with seeing how they do it in other areas of the country. Lots of ideas learned from other Canadian snowmobile club trips. Those visits lead to let’s try to apply what we saw on the trail to our Maine snow sled club and backyard trail system.
When you snowmobile up in Maine’s St John River Valley, you enjoy twin lanes like the Interstate is divided.
Safer, more work for the groomer but just a different approach to laying out the trail system that goes in wide circles around the clubhouse.
So besides a network of Maine landowners willing to share their property with snowmobilers, a clubhouse for a home is needed.
A local Ward log home maker donated a building the Meduxnekeag Ramblers in Littleton Maine use for their clubhouse. Many of the local snow sled clubhouses are made of logs because Maine is 91 percent wooded.
Maine has lots of log home and cabin makers willing to lend a helping hand to local snowmobile clubs.
Once the log home kit is secured, other local vendors will step up and help out with manpower and materials.
Here’s a video showing a typical Maine snowmobile club breakfast.
The snowmobile clubhouse also is used for weddings, parties, executive retreats.
The rental income helps keep the snowmobile club out of the red and keeps membership engaged beyond just the winter trail riding sled season.Reimbursement from the state of Maine for trail grooming expenses is key. It is a partnership of state and local snowmobile club to document expenses for reimbursement. Money from snowmobile registrations, local fund raising keep the trail system healthy. The local businesses that directly benefit from winter snow sledders step up and give back heavily too. The Maine Snowmobile Association helps guide the local sled clubs too.
Local motels, sporting camps have groomed sled trails right up to their doorstep.
These local snowmobile clubs deliver the sledding tourist right to their business operations. Gas stations, local snow sled retailers benefit from the network of trails Maine snowmobile clubs keep polished. These are new dollars plowed back into the local economy that turn over six to seven times which benefits Maine taxpayers. Celebrations like Moosestompers help the locals shake cabin fever around the first of every February up in Aroostook County Maine.
The Maine snowmobile trail maps are sponsored by businesses too.
You can quickly cover a lot of trails on say ITS 83 that uses old railroad beds. These winter snow sledding highways come complete with bridges to span waterways. They complement nicely the local landowner side trails and large wooded tracts opened up by loggers who are also “sled heads”.
I have had Maine real estate buyers surprised I would allow a snowmobile trail across my family farm.
It is explained that landowners that add their acreage to the local snowmobile trail map are a valuable partner. Snowmobilers are reminded to respect the Maine landowner. That use of their private property is a privilege not a right.
Local snow sledders who love the winter sport are the glue that hold together the Maine snowmobile clubs.
Lucky to have had two uncles that were Maine snowmobile dealers.
Uncle Carl Hagan sold Sno-Jets and my uncle Cedric Benn peddled Polaris sleds and parts. As a kid, I learned a lot working on a 1966 Sno-Jet and before that an even older Johnson Skeehorse snow machine. Then Polaris machines after that with a couple Yamaha’s thrown in to the snow sled mix.
Growing up, I was also lucky to have neighborhood snowmobile enthusiasts who kept the area kid’s sled running like a top.
A local mechanic for the B & A railroad, Ronnie Brewer helped the neighborhood kids keep the machines running. He was like a shop teacher helping us figure out what’s wrong and
how to fix it. Friday night with all the kids lucky enough to have an early snow sled to use had it made. When the Sno-Jet metal gas tank rusted up, I decided to add a red side gas tank bungeed into place. The portable gas tank idea from Arctic Cat. It interfered with sitting down but no kid I knew in those early days ever sledded that way.
Early snow sledding was not sitting down and steering was narrow skis stance anyway.
To stay on the trail that you mostly made yourself, it was easy does it squeezing between tight spacing through the woods. You were on one knee. Or leaning, standing up and throwing the sled where you wanted it to go heading into curves. Before carbide ski runners and wider spacing up front, the snow sled steering involved way way more than just pushing and pulling your handlebar movements.
Just like hockey games, you can not sit down and fully experience them.
It is on your feet every period and into overtime to experience it all. Early snow sledding was like that too. On your feet or on your knees ladies and gentlemen. You did not sit down on the job of maneuvering the snowmobile to negotiate turns, to avoid hitting trees. No one wanted bent straight up snow skis or a dent in their cowling. You did not have wide and handsome trails and it took more work leaning into corners. If you had a passenger on back, you told them to follow your move and lean too. Otherwise, the both of you would be out in the pucker brush and holding up the rest of the sled head trail gang.
We went to grass snow sled racers, over to Canada to watch the snowmobile circuit competitions at New Brunswick province community parks.
My Aunt Ruth’s partner was a big kid himself. Freeman Taylor kept our snowmobiles going and let us use a souped up 1964 Ski Doo and his 1973 Skiroule.
The former snowmobile was a bored out 10 horsepower cranking out 22 ponies with poor brakes and missing safety guards.
The old Ski Doo with a noisy straight pipe, a sprinkle of that red fluid labeled “fuel activator” sprinkled in the gas tank. Too narrow and loose as a goose to handle at higher trail speeds than the sled was original designed to be going. The Skiroule was modern and ran very well with its 25 horsepower engine. I think their RTX model was way ahead of its time like the Kawasaki snow machines and other notable snowmobile models.
Freeman also had an 80 horsepower Skiroule with three carbs, a rope wind up hand crank and ear splitting tuned exhaust pipes.
It was fun watching Freeman race on grass or the circuit parks. But he had a heck of time keeping drive belts from fraying and failing before the end of the race.
Often many laps ahead of the field and often coming in a lower place pushing the dead sled over the finish line.
Too much power from the 793 cc Hirth power plant delivered to the clutching and drive track channel the problem.
When there is a snow drought, clubs still have the Christmas parties, mark the trails, keep the social element going.
Maine is like that, feast or famine and we all adjust making the most of what we have. We are always grateful for what we have that is always enough. Take what you need, pass along the rest to someone that has less. Is it like that where you live now?
The sights you can see on a snowmobile out in nature in the middle of a Maine winter back drop are pretty moving.
Wildlife, snow covered mountains and trees surround you. Waterfalls, rivers, frozen lakes. Signs that someone was on the trail before you to break the way and make it easier sledding.
Bring your camera to capture those Kodak moments on and off the snowmobile ITS trail.
Through the woods, out over an open farm field, crossing a lake if conditions are safe. Tread lightly. Carry in and out. Stay on the marked snow sled trail. The experience is one of a kind and you can get places easily that are not accessible by car.
Maine is not just summer vacations and that’s all she wrote.
Get the whole nine yards, spend time in Maine all four seasons to experience Vacationland to the fullest. We local natives do and feel so fortunate to live in Maine full time, all year round.
l hope you get to see Maine from atop a snowmobile seat this winter.