Norton, VT - Last winter was depressing for snow lovers. It seemed like every time we got a few inches, it melted away faster than it fell. As you might imagine this is maddening for skiers, hikers, ice climbers and especially the Northeast Kingdom Snowblasters. They're a snowmobile club in northeast Vermont. Their trail coordinator is David Diminico, he says " We can't groom a snowmobile trail until we have 18-20" of snow".
Starting December 15, snow permitting, Diminico will live in his groomer.
"It takes us 12 hours to groom over 63 miles of trails. I do it full time and I have 2 other groomers that do it part time.", Diminico adds while wearing shorts and a t-shirt. It was almost 70° the day we caught up with him. Before the snow falls and Diminico puts on winter gear, there's a lot of other ground work to be done.
Dale Gilman, president of the Northeast Kingdom Snowblasters, explains, "We basically clear all the brush and trees that have fallen from all our trails."
Diminico took us on an impromptu bridge inspection, "We actually found that some of these bridges, you can see right over here, this is going to need some gravel."
The club is based in the town of Norton, Vermont, right on the Canadian border. The town allows them to use their barn to house the groomer and other supplies. The back wall of the barn is stacked high from floor to ceiling with signage.
Gilman says, "We'll probably take 30 volunteers and they'll be out 6 hours. So that's 180 hours that we'll spend putting these signs up."
Diminico adds, "Every bridge has to have a hazard posted on both sides, entrance and exit. Once you approach a corner that comes down here to the right, we have to put an arrow."
Diminico tells us that every bridge has to be inspected and meet standards set by the Vermont Association of Snowtravelers, you know them as VAST. VAST also makes sure each club can afford to groom.
Gilman says, "Most of what we do as a local club is through volunteers, we have very low maintenance. Our groomer is all maintained by volunteers, we don't hire professionals. All of our trail work is done by volunteers. The only thing we get money for is for fuel and for major repairs and for parts when our groomer goes down."
Gilman told me that VAST gives them about 12 dollars a mile, they use it when they can groom. The winter of 2015-2016 was a nightmare. The season opens December 15, they didn't start riding until January.
"We were pretty optimistic. We had about a month, then we got rain in February, which is our reciprocal weekend with Maine & New Hampshire. It completely wiped out the snow, it was pretty dismal." says Gilman recalling last winter.
There are over 4,000 miles of trails in Vermont. To ride them you have to buy what's called a "TMA". Gilman says they're about $100. A lot of people wait for the snow to fall before they buy, last year, people kept waiting.
Gilman adds, "Statewide, our TMA sales were down like 13,000 from the year previous."
Gerald Devost is a landowner, he lives on Wallace Pond in Canaan, VT. He says, "The numbers weren't here. Restaurants and gas stations suffer when it's like that."
Diminico remains hopeful, he remembers the snowier times, "I know that last year, we had way below normal snowfall. 2 years prior to that, we had so much snow up here we actually groomed up to the last day, April 15."
Most of the grooming and riding is done on land that's privately owned. Ask anyone and they'll tell you riding like this can't happen without landowners. Gerald Devost and his family own 3,860 acres.
He says, "We want to be good neighbors and as long as they respect the land and as long as they don't litter and stuff, we have our land open."
It's land that Gilman, Diminico, Devost and the rest of the snowblasters hope will be snow covered very soon. Gilman looked at me with a sense of hope and added, "There's not much you can do about the weather. We're just going to maintain our attitude that we are going to get it."