The Pine Tree State’s 14,500 miles of snowmobile trails lead you up mountains and along tidal shores amid the joys of winter. Ted Manning of Hopkinton owns a camp near Sebago Lake where he snowmobiles every chance he gets.
“At first I wasn’t a ‘winter person,’ but I went sledding with a friend of mine and was immediately hooked on the sport. The trails are excellent up here and they are well groomed. The trails are so pretty along the lake and International Trail System-89 takes you up over Douglass Mountain in Sebago, where you can see the entire range of the White Mountains to the west, including Mount Washington,’’ Manning said. “The farther north you go, the better the trails get. There are a number of people from Massachusetts who come to Maine just for the snowmobiling. It is less than a three-hour drive from my home.’’
The Cushman family of Gorham, Maine, bought a camp next to a snowmobile trail in Andover, Maine, a popular snowmobile destination in the western mountains.
“We look at snowmobiling as a tool to bring families together and repair relationships. The snowmobile culture consists of clubs that are all part of one big family,’’ said Jennifer Cushman. “We are members of the Snow Valley Sno-Goers in Andover and we hold each other responsible for being respectful when riding and mindful of landowners and their property.’’
There are almost 300 snowmobile clubs in the state and they have worked to foster good relations with landowners and promote safety and education. Clubs host many of the yearly festivals and events that include activities even for those who don’t snowmobile.
“When you pull into a town to get gas, you can get a meal and then go shopping or stay at a hotel,’’ said Cushman. “Also, there are so many snowmobile clubs that have potluck or bean suppers and they always have something going on. You find when you start snowmobiling you make a lot of new friends and see some really beautiful places in Maine.’’
“Maine is such a desirable destination because of the diversity of experiences it offers - everything from mountains to big woods and wide-open farming country. Weather permitting, there are even some coastal areas available for sledding,’’ said Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association. “The same can be said for the accommodations. You can find everything from rustic lodges in the deep woods to full service hotels with indoor pools and saunas.’’
Even if you don’t own a snowmobile or the proper equipment, a number of lodges and outfitters can supply you with everything you need to enjoy a day on the trails for around $200 per person. Lessons are often included.
“Snowmobiling gives people a chance to get outside in the winter and do something that doesn’t cost a lot of money,’’ said Jim Yearwood, one of the owners of Northern Outdoors in the Forks, located on the Kennebec River. “You can rent the machine and the clothing and we provide all the expertise with a pre-trip orientation as well as a lesson on how to operate the sled. You can go either on a guided or self-guided trip.’’
Being in the wilderness does not mean going without luxuries. The Forks offers a 24-person outdoor hot tub, where after a day on the trail you can soak away any aches under starlit skies. Northern Outdoors also features a large lodge known as The Forks Resort Center, featuring a restaurant with its own micro-brewery.
Wi-Fi hookup is available along with all the amenities of home with fully-furnished cabins on Wyman Lake. Northern Outdoors also operates the Penobscot Outdoor Center near Baxter State Park.
Not far from Baxter is the New England Outdoor Center, located on the shores of Millinocket Lake. The center offers snowmobile rentals, equipment, and clothing. There is trailside lodging in cabins and a main lodge featuring the River Drivers Restaurant and Pub.
“We rent Ski-Doo Grand Touring 550 fan-cooled engines. They are very comfortable and can hold one or two people and feature a long track, which makes the sled very stable,’’ said owner Matt Polstein. “For someone who has never been on a sled before, we offer a video orientation and they can do a practice run in our yard. Our staff goes over how to use the sled. We provide people with a map, and we also have three-hour introductory guided tours so they have someone to teach them how to ride and what to do in case they get stuck.’’
The center, which offers more rustic cabins for people who want to rough it, is 8 miles from the entrance to the state park, where snowmobiling is allowed on the Perimeter Road.
For those who want to be pampered to the extreme, First Settler’s Lodge may be just the place for an upscale escape with its views of Mount Katahdin just off East Grand Lake. With Wi-Fi, satellite TV, and gourmet meals, the lodge accommodates up to 11 people in its six rooms. It does not rent snowmobiles, but they are available in Island Falls, just to the north.
“Some people want to be pampered and this is the place where they can get that,’’ said owner Stephen Mine.
The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife offers a six-hour snowmobile safety course recommended for everyone - especially the novice. It includes instruction in operation and handling of the machine, snowmobile laws, emergency and survival, map and compass, self-help first aid, and environmental and landowner ethics.
If you go...
Moosehead Trail Loop About 160 miles of scenic riding with stops for gas and food. The trail consists of major International Trail System trails along with connector and local trails.
Katahdin Loop Trail Views of Katahdin from the south of Baxter State Park using short and long loop trails that use ITS-86, Connector Trail-111, and ITS-83.
Down East Sunrise Trail Newly opened, it offers 85 miles of trail riding with views of marshes, inlets, mountains, and wildlife. Includes ITS 81, 82, and connector trails. Depending on snow conditions, you can ride from Ellsworth to Ayers junction in eastern Washington County.
Acadia National Park Trail The Park Loop Road is open to snowmobiles when there is enough snow cover. The best part is the winter view of Mount Desert Island and the ocean after riding to the top of Cadillac Mountain.
Saint John Valley Trail It begins on ITS-85 in Madawaska (Aroostook County) and heads north to Fort Kent for breathtaking views of the Saint John Valley.
Rumford. Runs through Grafton Notch near the New Hampshire border with incredible views of the White Mountains.
Lovell. With views of the White Mountains and surrounding lakes.
Rangely. The trail takes you northeast to Stratton, following ITS Connector Trail 115 around Bigelow Mountain for some beautiful views, then runs west on ITS-84 to circle back to Rangeley for a 100-mile-plus day trip.
ITS-89 Eustis. Traverses east out to Grand Falls (be sure to stop and take in the falls) then heads over to the West Forks. There are views of the falls, along with mountain views, scenic turnoffs, and vistas.
ITS-81 Sherman. Heads north to Shin Pond taking ITS-85 to Matagamon. With views of Mount Katahdin and the other mountains of Baxter State Park.
2012 festivals, events, races
(All are weather-dependent.)
Jan. 19-21, Snodeo, Rangeley, www.rangeleysnowmobile.com
Jan. 21, B-52 Annual Memorial Ride, Greenville, www.mooseheadriders.org
Jan. 28, United States Cross Country Snowmobile Racing, Parlin Pond, www.usccracing.com
Feb. 10-12, 13th annual Naples Winter Carnival, www.muddyriversnoseekers.org
Feb. 17-25, Greenville Winterfest, www.mooseheadriders.org
Feb. 17-20, Katahdin Area WinterFest, www.katahdinmaine.com
Feb. 18, USCC Snowmobile Racing, Madawaska, www.usccracing.com
Feb. 18, 1 Lunger 100 Vintage Snowmobile Race, Turner, www.turnerridgeriders.com
Feb. 18-19, Sebago Ice Fishing Derby, Raymond, www.icefishingderby.com
March 3, Gray, Annual Winterfest and Ice Fishing Derby, www.graysnowolves.com
March 17, Greenville, USCC Snowmobile Racing, www.usccracing.com
Maine Snowmobile Association
The association has produced “Ride Right, Ride Smart,’’ a CD that stresses five things riders should do: Ride to the right, ride at a reasonable speed, ride sober, ride using hand signals, and ride defensively. The interactive CD takes the rider on a virtual snowmobile trip across the state using video and text to help the viewer learn the basics of snowmobile safety. It is available free of charge with payment of a $5 handling fee to cover postage and packaging. Send your request along with $5 per CD to MSA, PO Box 80, Augusta, Maine 04332. For information about snowmobile safety courses offered in Maine, go to www.maine.gov/ifw/education/safety/snowmobile.htm.