MONTPELIER, Vt. — With the ground bare and temperatures in the 40s in the days before Christmas, the head of the New Hampshire Snowmobile Association wasn't checking the forecast anymore.
"There's nothing I can do about it. Why get more discouraged?" said Gail Hanson, the association's executive director.
The little snow this December has hundreds of thousands of snowmobilers in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont wishing for a blizzard. Snowmobiling pumps a total of nearly $2 billion a year into the three states' economies. The season was made even more difficult this year in Vermont because Tropical Storm Irene damaged hundreds of miles of trail.
"To have as much bare ground, this is kind of unusual as far as I can remember," said Roy Arthur, trail master and vice president for the Shrewsbury Sno-Birds, last week. He's been grooming trails in the mountainous area of Vermont since the 1980s.
Trails were scheduled to open in Vermont and New Hampshire on Dec. 15, but because of scant to no snow, that has been pushed off until enough of the white stuff arrives.
Snow arrived Christmas Eve throughout much of northern New England covering the trails, but it wasn't enough to open them.
One bright spot is that the delay has given clubs in Vermont, where trails and bridges were washed out in August by flooding from Irene, more time to make repairs. It also has given the ground more time to freeze.
"It's a good thing in a way but we're hoping to turn things around so that the ground will freeze a little bit," said Matt Tetreault, trails assistant for the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers.
Before the snowmobiling season can get under way, officials hope the ground freezes, as well as the waterways running through the trails. And there must be snow — lots of it.
Some fear the brooks and swamps won't freeze this season, making for slushy spots or the need for detours. The New Hampshire Bureau of Trails, which manages more than 7,400 miles of snowmobile trails, said last week that gates will remain closed and logging operations will continue until more snow arrives.
But it's too soon to worry about the season, which typically gets going in January, officials said.
New Year's Eve tends to be the first big snowmobiling weekend of the season in Maine, said Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association, but he noted that the sport is always at the whim of Mother Nature and others.
It needs generous private landowners who allow snowmobile trails on their property, Meyers said, and snow, which is beyond snowmobilers' control.
"One of those is under our control, which is the landowners. We just cooperate with them and we help them and they help us and everybody is happy," he said. "And the other thing is the weather, which we have zero control over."