|Snowmobile rider Andrew Hall, shown here and below, hit the trails with two
friends for an adventure and found trail conditions so good they rode for five hours and 125 miles to Gilford.
By CAROL ROBIDOUX
Union Leader Correspondent
|Andrew Hall of Derry.
|Happy trails this year, thanks to a bumper crop of snow.
“My friends and I had been talking about taking a long trip, but this is the first year we’ve had enough snow to do it,” said Hall, 19. Thanks to what has been called an “unusually phenomenal” year for snowmobiling by the head of the state’s Bureau of Trails, Hall and two of his friends, Jared Bartolotta of Hampstead and
Cris King of Derry, were able to mount a seasonal adventure of epic proportions, thanks to 5-plus feet of snow and the benevolence of the state’s 113 dedicated snowmobile clubs, who are solely responsible for grooming the trails.
“Our goal was to go to Tilton — I love the Tilt’n Diner. But once we made it that far, the trails were so good we decided to keep going,” said Hall.
The 125-mile trip from the trail head in his back yard to Patrick’s Pub in Gilford took a good five hours on snow machines.
Oh sure, it took five times longer than it would have doing 65 mph on the highway, but in this case, the journey was the point.
“Yeah, there were a few rough spots on the trails. It happens. Sometimes the groomers break down. We made it, though. It was great,” Hall said.
Hall is not alone in regarding New Hampshire’s snowy trails as his winter playground.
According to New Hampshire Snowmobile Association President Terry Callum Jr. of Unity, snowmobiling is a vital part of the state’s economy, attracting some 60,000 registered snowmobilers to the state’s 7,000mile trail system annually.
“Although there hasn’t been an updated survey since 2002-2003, according to the last survey published in 2004, snowmobiling brought in $1.2 billion in indirect revenue to the state — if you consider lodging, meals, fuel, and other related expenses. But directly, it brings in $350 million annually, which is no small thing,” Callum said.
Regional snowmobile clubs like the Derry Pathfinders take care of grooming trails. Keeping up in a season of plentiful snow can be a challenge, said club president Phil Bruno.
“I think if Andrew and his friends ran into some rough spots on the trails further north, it might have been because that particular weekend coincided with the Easter Seals Ride-In, a big fundraiser that many of the clubs participate in. Generally, we all have dedicated, committed guys who will scramble to make sure they get out and groom the trails regularly,” Bruno said.
According to Chris Gamache, chief of the state Bureau of Trails, this is the first winter in recent memory that trails in all 10 counties were open for business.
“We rely heavily on the clubs, and while we do fund a portion of their grooming efforts, Derry Pathfinders and other clubs have just about run out of hours they were approved for grooming, so we’re working on a second round of grant funding to make sure the trails remain groomed through March,” Gamache said.
Clubs apply for grants in the fall, money that is derived from a percentage of snowmobile registrations, said Gamache.
Only 65 percent of the cost of grooming is reimbursed by the $1.4 million in state grants; the rest is covered by the clubs.
“So their membership fees, fundraising spaghetti suppers and hamburger drives are really what keep this billion-dollar industry going for the state,” Gamache said.
Although there are plenty of other states where winter snow is plentiful and snowmobiling is a huge part of the winter economy, what makes New Hampshire unique is the possibility for border-to-border riding in all directions, Callum said.
“You can ride to Vermont, to Maine, to Massachusetts and even up into Canada,” Callum said. “You could even make a road trip out of it, from Massachusetts to Canada, stopping along the way for lodging and meals, although you’d need the time to do it.”
For Hall and his friends, all 2010 graduates of Pinkerton Academy, the luxury of time, while fleeting, still exists. Hall said he’s looking at enrolling in college in the fall after taking a year off to work with his dad, Jack Hall, at Hillcrest Motors, the family business.
And while he said he’d love to take another long adventure ride up north before the big meltdown, he admits that the going was slow enough on the way back home from Gilford that, by 8 p.m. his dad, was picking the weary trio up in Concord.
“They probably could have made it home, but I didn’t want a call at 2 a.m. that they’d had a breakdown somewhere,” said Jack Hall.
“Yeah. Maybe next time we’d have to get an earlier start, except we’d have to get up earlier.
So maybe not,” said Hall, with a smile.
Plentiful snow this season has made such pleasure trips possible for snowmobilers across the state, said Bruno.
Being prepared remains one of the cardinal rules of responsible snowmobiling, and joining a local club is a great place to start. “It’s key. You have to be prepared, which means knowing what to do if you run across an accident, or have one, or if you get lost. All our clubs have maps available, and you can get them right from the Web. We’re always looking for new members,” Bruno said.
“Snowmobiling is a great adventure. You’ll see portions of the state you wouldn’t normally see if you took the highways.
It’s a great opportunity to see wildlife and scenery,” Bruno said. “It’s an adventure I’d love to be able to have the time for. Unfortunately, for most of us, work gets in the way.”