Businesses Hold out Hope for Strong Snowmobile Season

ORLEANS CO., VT - The lack of snowmobliers in the area is noticeable. As of Thursday, the snowmoblie trails remain closed. However, snow and cold temperatures are in the forecast and many enthusiasts remain optimistic about the weather, even though the snowmobile season has had a slow start this year.The lack of snowfall and warmer temperatures are having an effect locally, all over the Northeast Kingdom and beyond. No one seems to know the exact impact snowmobilers have on the economy in the NEK, but all say it's huge. And the trickledown effect from snowmobilers on the overall economy is significant.“Those who snowmobile have money to spend,” said Gloria Bruce, the executive director of Northeast Kingdom Travel and Tourism Association out of East Burke.Snowmobilers, many from out of the area, come to the region for the sport, spend money on snowmobiles, service, repairs, equipment and gear. They also stay in the local hotels, eat in the restaurants, buy gas, and shop locally.Bruce said that when businesses lack customers, they no longer need as many employees and they cut back on hours. As a result, employees have less money to spend in the community.Walt’s Sales and Service in Derby sells snowmobiles, equipment and gear and services the machines. Sixty percent of their winter business comes from people from out of the area. Right now, Walt’s is not as busy as it could be if the trails were open, said Scott Jenness, but they aren't concerned. Jenness said the last couple of winters saw early snowfall, and last year the trails opened in mid-December. But in past years, many times, the tails did not open until mid-January.The Great Outdoors sporting goods store in Newport reported slow business from snowmobilers where typically they see a significant amount. However, the business is doing well with its ski and snowboard equipment and gear.Bruce said it's important for businesses to be able to offer a variety of products and services rather than relying soley on snowmobilers alone.Donna Higgons, the executive director of the North Country Chamber of Commerce in Newport, said that after October of 2010, visits to the center have slowed down significantly, especially now, but last year, in May through October, the number of visitors was up more than 10 percent. The center was very busy last winter with snowmobilers asking for local attractions such has restaurants and places to service their sleds. Higgons also said that many people have already began inquiring at the center about the big annual fishing derby and spring and summer activities in the area.