March 23, 2019

Lack of snow stalls winter riders

Businesses see dip in customers, too

Photos by Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Kevin Forney of Groton posts signs for snowmobile riders and checks the frozen ground on a snowmobile trail near Hoy Road in Cortlandville.

Five years ago around this time, Kevin Forney would’ve been three weeks into snowmobiling season. But a lack of snow has stalled the season this year.

“I’m frustrated because I’m all ready to go,” Forney said.

Forney is the president of Seven Valley Snow Goers, a snowmobiling club with about 250 members.

He said the season lasts from December to March — about 12 weekends. However, Forney said those weekends dwindle fast when you can’t ride. On Thursday he noted this past weekend’s forecast called for rain and higher than normal temperatures.

“It’s another weekend shot,” he said.

New York state law requires a minimum of 5 inches of snow on the ground to open up the trails. Forney said to groom a good trail, he would need one to two feet of snow and the temperatures in the mid-20s. Existing ground cover varies, but ranges from nothing to almost nothing.

“I think everybody was anticipating a good winter when we got hit (with snow) in November,” said Sharon Toussaint, owner of Three Bear Inn in Marathon, near the River Whitney Point Trail.

A snowmobile trail map shows the territory for the Seven Valley Snow Goers.

Toussaint said her business has taken a bit of a hit since snowmobilers aren’t out; they account for 10 to 15 percent of her winter business.

“This is the third winter that it’s really not been good,” she said. The snowmobilers don’t just stop to eat at the restaurant, but they drink at the bar or stay in the hotel, too.

Nick Caruso, manager of Hobo’s 281 restaurant and bar in Homer, is feeling similar effects.

“It doesn’t kill us that they’re not around, but when they are it brings a lot of life to the place,” he said.

Bartender Lainee Caruso said normally on the weekend they’d serve about 50 snowmobilers. The past few weekends they’ve seen none.

“We’re missing that late-night rush,” Nick Caruso said. He’s had to send cooks home early because there’s just not enough foot traffic.

Over at CNY Power Sports, when there’s no snow, there are no purchases. That’s unlike other seasons — one can always expect some heat in summer.

“The problem is unlike other seasons, people wait until they see snow to buy stuff, especially when snowmobiles are anywhere from $12,000 to $17,000 now,” owner Tim Hall said.

Hall said it can make for a long and slow winter at the store. However, he’s trying to stay positive.

“Never say never,” he said. “We’ll see what next month brings.”

He too noted that over the last few years riders haven’t been getting out onto the trails until February or March and that’s when he expects things to pick up.

“I watch the 11 o’clock news every night to see what’s coming, but there’s nothing coming,” Forney said.

Jessica Spaccio, a climatologist with the Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell University in Ithaca, said the forecast she sees includes only temperatures and precipitation; and the next few weeks show a chance for above normal temperatures, but also a chance for precipitation.

“In mid-January we could pick up a little more snow,” Spaccio said.

Forecasts for Cortland County show some snow squalls during the week, but no major accumulation and temperatures ranging from as low as 25 degrees to as high as 42 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

“We’re all just crossing our fingers,” Forney said.

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