by Matthew Rice
Clubs, riders chomping at the bit
Talk about “polar opposites.”
Last year, the snow came early and often for local clubs and riders, but so far, this winter has many riding clubs scrambling to stay busy and in some cases keep club activities going despite an almost total lack of snow.
The group soon to be known as the Whitehall RailRiders also known as the New Adirondack Riders find themselves in the same boat as other snowmobile clubs from around the region.
Lack of snow has everyone somewhat discouraged, club President Bob J. Putorti Jr. said. “Having nothing to show for all we’ve done (is frustrating),” Putorti said.
After an off season involving a lot of work on a number of different fronts, not being able to ride those trails has everyone impatiently watching the skies and the weather reports.
Putorti said the club spent time and money readying for the season from marking trails and doing maintenance on groomers and drags to trail maintenance replacing culverts, bridges and repairing damage done by Tropical Storm Irene; even getting five members certified as trail groomers.
“You have to get everything ready to go whether you get snow or not,” Putorti said.
Now, even with warmer weather allowing members to get back out and do more trail work, the muddy conditions created by the warmer temperatures might limit even that activity.
With about 100 memberships, which can be anything from one person to an entire family, Putorti said after becoming club president in October, he was looking forward to exploring club activities like group rides and Poker runs – difficult to do when the only snow on the ground is wiped out by rain.
One scheduled event might be impacted.
The winter carnival, scheduled for Feb. 18, typically has a snowmobile club presence, but with warmer weather it looks like rides at least, might not happen.
Club members usually take passengers along a loop the goes down onto the nearby ice which is also missing from this winter.
“Normally we go down and talk about snowmobiling and give the kids rides…we’re not sure it’s going to happen,” he said.
Putorti said he holds out hope, however. Experience tells Putorti this winter isn’t over just yet.
“I’ve been working for the town for 20 years, plowing snow, and it seems like in winters like this it can go one of two ways: we’ll get three feet or snow all at once or it goes into April when you want it to be spring; winters like this, you pay for it in the end,” Putorti said.
Following on the heels of a winter he said was “perfect”, Granville Border Riders President Dan Daigle said most club members remain waiting and hopeful. “There are a few guys going out of town to western New York and Vermont but they’re having to go a ways to find snow,” Daigle said.
Ever the optimist, at least when it comes to the possibility of freshly fallen snow, Daigle looks at the calendar and back in time. Recalling the winter of four years ago, Daigle said that winter had no appreciable snow until two huge storms on holidays Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day dropped several feet in two huge late season blizzards. “There’s still time,” he said.
What all of the area clubs from Hartford and Whitehall to across the border in Poultney have in common is looking for a good quality snowstorm of eight or more inches which could help form a base.
“We need a good base of nice wet snow that will freeze and fill in the dips and imperfections and then snow on top of that,” Daigle said. “But I’d take anything right now,” he said.
In a typical year Daigle said a rider could ride or ‘put on’ anywhere from 500-1,200 miles. Often hitting those upper limits means taking snowmobile and trailer out of the area to places like the Tug Hill Plateau, Old Forge and the Moose River Plain; some of the few areas within driving distance to have any snow at all, Daigle said.
Looking at the calendar and given the time left, a storm, soon, could get people out and riding, Daigle said. “We’d be happy to get five or six weeks of good riding.”
Following a great snow year like the last one, Daigle said he knew a few riders who have new sleds that are sitting home while others have taken to the roads to go find the snow – it all depends on the rider. “It (no snow) doesn’t really deter the diehards, if they put 300 miles on they’re happy,” he said.
Some are content to wait for the snow or the next season as they have potentially thousands of dollars wrapped up in the sport. “Obviously it’s not about getting your money back,” Daigle said.
While every member of the club would prefer to be out logging miles, some are taking advantage of the snowless stretch to continue to work on the nearly 70 miles of trails under the club’s care.
“We’re still pecking away at trail work, there’s always stuff to do including planning, organizing and charity work,” Daigle said.
“As long as we can’t ride we still have some diehards who want to keep working. We try to advance more and more every chance we get,” Daigle said.
Ridge Riders waiting
Asked what he was doing Hartford Ridge Riders President Mike Irwin chuckled before he said: “We’re waiting for snow.”
Like Granville, Hartford has spent a lot of time and money getting the trails into shape after Tropical Storm Irene and the average off season’s wear and tear. “The trails have been ready, the signs, the culverts, the bridges…the rough spots have been ready now since the middle of December,” Irwin said.
“With all that work, it’s sad,” he said. “All it’s doing is teasing us,” Irwin said.
But like any snowmobile rider, Irwin remains an optimist. He too looks fondly back on the late season holiday storms of four years ago and holds out hope for some riding this season.
“We probably need a good 8 to10 inches from the first storm to be able to put down a decent base with the groomer,” he said.
Irwin said he was amused at a saying Ridge Riders trail master Lenny Moore found in an almanac: ‘snow in the fall no winter at all.’ That sums up this year, he said, with the most substantial snows in the area taking place before fall was gone, only to have the snow melt away.
The impact of the lack of snow is felt beyond bored riders, Irwin said. The Hartford club has put on a charity benefit ride for the past four years and the ride does better when there is snow. The benefit to raise money for cancer research will go on, he said, but more people get into the spirit of the event and come out if they can ride to it.
Snowmobile clubs also spend money, he said. From parts to petroleum products and food and drinks, riders don’t spend when they don’t ride whether it’s getting a snowmobile serviced or repaired or even buying a new model from a showroom. And when the snow doesn’t come, some riders don’t spend those big dollars.
“You need to be able to ride to afford a toy like that,” he said.
Poultney run still on
Poultney Valley Snowmobile Devils President Ernie DeMatties said the lack of snowfall looms large against their annual winter carnival. Scheduled for Feb. 4, the day of fun in the snow is preceded by a torch lit parade in Poultney from East Poultney to the Methodist Church on Main Street for the annual spaghetti dinner fundraiser put on by the Poultney Chamber of Commerce.
“We’ve had it snow the night before so if we know it’s coming we’ll try to pull it off,” DeMatties said. In the event of no snow, the winter carnival will move to the end of the month. The club will post to the internet and go on the radio to announce the postponement, he said.
In a good snow year the club offers hot food and drinks, a place for the kids to go sledding and rides for those without snowmobiles. After having conversations with other local snowmobiling organizations, DeMatties said he was aware of few people riding and those who were had to travel to find snow. “We’re not doing anything right now. There’s not much snow anywhere in New England,” he said.
“We have excellent trails – if we had snow – we’ve done a lot of work and repair since the storm,” DeMatties said.