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Big storm and a big boom for snowmobiling venues

The same snow that kept, or in some cases sent, central Mainers off the roads Thursday is likely to send some of them into the woods atop skis and snowmobiles in the coming days
When the snow falls, interest in wintertime outdoor recreational pursuits climbs.
"I know folks on the Nordic skiing side of things are chomping at the bit to get out on the trails," said Leif Dahlin, the city of Augusta’s director of community services. "The machinery is ready to go, the volunteers are ready, the will is there. We just need this storm to come through and then we’ll get the snow rolled and packed down."
Dahlin said Thursday morning groomers were ready to go, as soon as the storm concludes, at Bond Brook Recreation Area, where there are 17 miles of multi-use trails on 268 rolling acres of city-owned land roughly between Augusta State Airport and Bond Brook.
But Dahlin warned the fresh snow will need to be packed down before the trails will be ready for skiers. He said some of the trails could be ready by the weekend, if grooming goes well. The trails are maintained with help from the nonprofit group Augusta Trails.
"It’s entirely possible — possible — we will be skiing this weekend," Dahlin said. "As soon as the storm is over with, we’ll have the Piston Bully out with the roller, getting the trails packed down, setting the snow."
Dahlin said people can check Augusta Trails’ Facebook page for updates on the status of the trails.
Farther north, in Jackman, Hal Blood, owner of Cedar Ridge Outfitters, a snowmobile and sporting resort, said he expected about three feet of snow on the ground by the end of the storm.
"We already had a good base of at least a foot from other storms so we’ll be all set for winter," said Blood, 55.
Cedar Ridge is on about 100 miles of snowmobile trails groomed by the Border Riders Sportsman Club in Jackman.
Michelle Newman, the club’s treasurer, said the town’s hotels have been nearly full since Wednesdsay night.
She’s also the bookkeeper at Jackman Power Sports, a snowmobile retailer, and said people have been lined up for snowmobile sales and rentals.
In an ideal year, Newman said the snowmobile season will last about 12 to 16 weeks, beginning around Dec. 15 and lasting through the first week in April.
She said the club started grooming trails on Dec. 16 this year.
"It’s a big difference from last year when we were just watching and watching and waiting for the snow to fall," she said. "People lost the opportunity to ride last year so they’re ready to go now."
Newman also said that although the area has plenty of snow, many lakes are not frozen yet and she warned riders against going too fast over water.
"It’s going to be a good year. I think everyone is happy with the snow we have," she said.
"We call it white gold up here. It would be a long winter in Jackman without any snow," said Blood.
But even in the Augusta area, snowmobilers can find trails.
"We’ve got to have the ground white in our business, to make things happen," said Cliff Kramer, one of the owners of Kramer’s Inc. in Sidney, which sells Arctic Cat snowmobiles and, in the considerably less-fun, more-practical, category, snowblowers.
Kramer said snowfall gets snowmobilers thinking about going sledding, which prompts them to come look at new sleds or bring theirs in for a tune-up or other maintenance. Not, however, the day of a major storm.
"Today, the traveling is so bad, people aren’t getting out much, other than a few diehards coming in," Kramer said Thursday as heavy snow fell. "It will get busier in the next few days. Despite the economy, people are still going to play."
Kramer said the snow may also prompt some relatively last-minute decisions in people to go snowmobiling on machines that have been sitting idle all summer, and, due to a lack of much snow, may not have been used very much in recent winters.
And those machines may need some service before they’re ready.
"You get people digging their stuff out for the first time, and, the last year or two, they’ve hardly used the products," he said. "Some people, the diehards, start getting ready early. And you’ve got the last-minute guys who get together at Christmas and decide they want to go for a ride this weekend. He’s not ready. But we’ve got to try and help them get there."
Ski areas are also excited about the fresh snow.
Titcomb Mountain manager Karleen Andrews said thanks to the storm, the ski area staff will be making much less artificial snow than the thought they’d have to get ready for opening day today.
She said the west Farmington ski area got about 6 inches of snow as of Thursday morning, which she said is helping make up for inches lost during the rain earlier in the week.
"The last couple of years we haven’t been able to open at all during the break so hopefully this snow will be great for business," she said.

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