Late start, long run

Adirondack snowmobilers enjoyed some late season snow and big-time publicity this winter, making up for what was a slow start.

“It came on late, but I thought it was really quite a good season,” said Lake Placid Snowmobile Club President Jim McCulley. “The trails held up very well because of the cold weather.”

The publicity came in March when Gov. Andrew Cuomo visited the Adirondacks for the Winter Challenge, a day in which local and state officials engaged in recreational activities. The goal was to promote tourism. Cuomo joined McCulley and others on a snowmobile trip in the Gabriels area. Cuomo also promoted snowmobiling earlier in the season during a trip to the Tug Hill region.

McCulley said the exposure is definitely helping and he has received numerous emails from interested parties this winter.

“There’s definitely more people inquiring,” McCulley said. “Him coming up and going for a ride is definitely helpful. I think it gives people a different image of snowmobiling.

“A lot of people don’t understand snowmobiling.”

To get a picture of the snowmobile season as a whole, the Enterprise interviewed New York state Snowmobile Association Executive Director Dominic Jacangelo, who is based in the Albany-area, about the activity.

The season started slow with very little snow. The storms didn’t hit northern New York until February and March. Here’s what Jacangelo had to say about that.

JACANGELO: “The way to sum up the season is that it was pretty diverse in its oddity. We had some very good areas for snowmobiling. If you were along Lake Ontario or Lake Erie, we had some good lake-effect snows that came in and produced some fairly deep snow in some of those areas. The season started on kind of a shaky note. We had a couple of good early-season snows that were almost immediately followed by early-season rain, which put a damper on the entire season because as one of our members used to say, ‘If you got good snow before Christmas, you’d have a good season.’ We did get good snow, but then it immediately washed away. So there were kind of these false starts, and I think we had two of those back in late December, early January that really put damper a on things.

“I know we went for an early-season ride in the Tug Hill region. That’s when we went for a ride with the governor, when he announced the promotion of winter tourism in the state, including snowmobiling. We rode on very thin snow at that time. There was not much snow around.

“On the opposite end of the season, I was up around Long Lake (in late March). The snow was quite deep, and they finally got some decent snow after going through much of the year with a very thin cover, so it made for some very good late season riding. But I think when you don’t have good snow throughout the state on a consistent basis, it changes people’s perception of what’s out there. A lot of the coastal storms that we typically get throughout the state stayed very close to the coast. It snowed in New York City, Long Island and the downstate areas very heavily several different times. Those snows never went north of Kingston or Binghamton, so we kind of missed out on those storms.”

The snowmobile clubs around the state ended the season with a total membership of 60,000, according to Jacangelo. That number includes all types of memberships, including individual and family ones. It is down 500 members from last season.

As of March 29, there were 115,978 snowmobile transactions involving snowmobiles recorded by the state Department of Motor Vehicles. That’s also down 500 from last year, according to Jacangelo. The DMV doesn’t provide the snowmobile association with a hard number of registrations.

JACANGELO: “It’s been kind of a mixed season based on registration and memberships. We’re looking at pretty much the same numbers as last year. I would have thought with a more consistent snow cover, we would have far exceeded those numbers from last year.

“I think a couple of things have happened. You look back to the 2011-12 year where it did not snow. Registrations and memberships fell a great deal in that year. It created some apprehension in a lot of riders to not register or renew their membership until they see snow on the ground, and that’s unfortunate because the clubs very much depend on those registrations to support their activities. That’s kind of discouraging, but we did get to last year’s numbers and that was good.

“And also, this will sound odd, but it was so cold for a period of time. I know there’s a lot of riders – they won’t admit it – but they won’t go for a very long ride when it’s so cold. When it’s 10 below and it’s 15 below, I know a lot of people say, ‘maybe I’ll wait for tomorrow.’ And that’s one of things that happens, and you can’t avoid it. I mean, it’s great when you get a 10- to 20-degree day going, and it’s nice and sunny. You go for a ride. It’s warm. I won’t exaggerate. It’s warm to someone who is riding.

“When it’s 15 below, it’s not warm, and you can get uncomfortable. If things aren’t quite right, it’s hard to ride, so it’s a little bit of a turn-off.

“In the meantime, there’s been some great things this year. The whole ad campaign that the governor announced was wonderful. Those commercials ran up and down the East Coast. We had calls from Maryland and Delaware, New York City and Long Island, who had never been on a snowmobile before who wanted to come up and go for a ride. They were seeking information on how to do it and where to go. We pointed them to many of the dealers that rent sleds and suggested for those who were true novices to do a snow tour. Don’t just jump on a sled and go out by yourself. Go on regular tour. A four-hour tour where you have a leader and they keep you safe. Let’s put it that way. So we were very excited about that promotional campaign. I think it’s going to continue into next year, and hopefully, that will build additional riders from areas that we haven’t seen in the past. So I’m exciting about that prospect.”

The Adirondacks, particularly places like Old Forge and Long Lake, is one of several snowmobiling hot spots around the state. The hot spots will change from year to year depending on who gets the best snow. For instance, last winter the Adirondacks were the most popular spot for snowmobiling, according to a survey done by the snowmobiling association. That changed this year.

JACANGELO: “I think this year without question (the popular spots were) Tug Hill and Chautauqua (in the western part of the state off Lake Erie). I think the reason it was those two areas, it was the lake-effect snows. They did kick in early. It did snow hard. Even when we had the rain, the snow base stayed, so as soon as the snows started up again, you had an instant system. And my understanding is right through now, at least Tug Hill has snow. Tug Hill is a little colder than the Chautaqua elevation, so it tends to keep the snow longer. It is the most western county in the state, right off Lake Eerie. They get the same kind of lake-effect snows that Tug Hill gets.

“Some of the traditional places that we thought would have been stronger this year, like Old Forge and Long Lake and going right up that way, I mean, their snow came really late in the season. Old Forge did a little better, but Long Lake was right on that edge of (the storms). They didn’t get much lake effect. Up near Lake Placid, there was hardly any snow at all until late in the season. It was a very unusual season, I think, for Lake Placid. Very thin snow compared to what a typical year would be.

“In recent years, the norm has been the weather is inconsistent and hard to say. Every year is a little different.”

In recent years, winters haven’t always produced a lot of snow throughout the season, especially in December. The inconsistent weather has made it difficult for people to predict when the snow sports that rely on natural snow will be good.

JACANGELO: “It has put extreme stress on the clubs when you get right down to it. ‘Cause what happens when the snow doesn’t come, a club goes out in say, early December. They put up all their trail signs. They get all their stakes in the ground. They really get ready for the season, and then it doesn’t snow for quite some period of time. What ends up happening is they end up having to go out and redo a lot of work that they originally did. When you combine that with reduced club memberships along with reduced registrations, the amount of money coming into a club to keep up with the amount of work that needs to get done, doesn’t go up. So it puts stress on the club. That’s the problem.

“What was interesting about this winter, as I remember back to early fall, there were predictions of a good snowfall and a good cold winter. Overall, that was very true. But it’s really hard to predict a particular area. So, for instance – and this goes back to those coastal storms – those same coastal storms that missed us, dump a ton of snow on Wisconsin and Michigan and places to the other sides of the Great Lakes. … What you had happening was the jet stream was going to the other side of the Great Lakes and dipping way down south and then coming back up after it got over the Atlantic. All of those storms which dumped storms in Wisconsin and Michigan and those places have pushed the snow down to Washington, D.C., and New York City instead of it coming straight across the lakes, which typically it would do. But we got all the cold, but less of the snow. And what are you going to do? You can’t do anything about the weather. You make the best with what you have. The end of the season was very good. I had some great riding even where I am for near the end of the season.”