Snowmobile registrations down, conditions poor, but hope abounds for rebound

By John Koiziol
The New Hampshire Union Leader
February 1, 2016

BARTLETT — Despite closing the Bear Notch Trail System here Monday due to icy conditions, Chris Gamache, the chief of the New Hampshire Bureau of Trails, is certain that there is some good snowmobiling left in the 2015-2016 season.

The season is nearing the midpoint, said Gamache, who conceded Monday that apart from the northern-most parts of the North Country — from the Diamond Pond area in Stewartstown up to Pittsburg — there’s little to no riding and even when there is, it’s on trails only lightly covered with snow.

“Are we a little nervous?” Gamache asked rhetorically. “Yes.” Gamache then posed a second question: “Can the season still be pulled out? Yes.”

Given the current conditions, anything will be better, said Gamache, who pointed to the fact that next week is expected to bring some heavy snowfall, although it comes after temperatures in the upper 30s and above this week as well as the promise of soaking rain.

Another positive, said Gamache, is that the state’s snowmobiling season typically runs into April, with riding in Pittsburg usually lasting several weeks longer than in the rest of the Granite State.

“There’s not a hell of a lot of white out there,” he said, “and pretty much everything south of the notches is covered, if barely.”

Apart from the inconvenience to riders, Gamache said the unseasonably-mild weather is threatening to wreak havoc with both the Bureau of Trails and the Department of Fish and Game budgets, both of which rely on funding from snowmobile registration fees.

Of the $66 fee charged to New Hampshire residents, $47 goes to the Bureau of Trails, which then grants most of it back to the more than 100 snowmobile clubs that maintain and operate the state’s 7,000 miles of trails, the majority of which are located on private land.

Thirteen dollars of the fee goes to Fish and Game for its Off-Highway Recreational Vehicle Registry Program, Snowmobile and OHRV Safety Education Program, and providing law enforcement for snowmobiles and OHRV’s.

Through the month of January, there have been 19,720 registrations, said Fish and Game Maj. John Wimsatt, whereas there were more than 49,000 registrations last year.

“Regardless of what they see in their backyards,” said Gamache, referencing a ski industry rule-of-thumb that assumes people won’t think about coming north to hit the slopes unless they have snow in their own communities, snowmobilers should register their sleds because that money will be crucial for trail maintenance next season and also for Fish and Game.

Wimsatt reported that the 2016 tri-state reciprocal exchange weekend, which was held Jan. 29-31 and allowed riders from New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine to explore trails in each state, went well, and drew thousands of participants, even though they were confined, due to poor conditions, to a relatively small geographic area.

He, like Gamache, was optimistic that the winter is not yet done with New Hampshire and that snow is coming, although he also acknowledged that businesses outside of Pittsburg that serve snowmobilers were hurting now.

Karl Stone, the marketing manager of the Lancaster-based NH Grand North, said it was fortunate that trails were open in the upper North Country, but added it’d be preferable if they were open statewide, too.

There’s still time left for both scenarios, Stone said.

“It’s only the first of February,” he said, “we could be riding well into April.”



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