CAPITAL REGION — For snowmobile trails, and many other winter recreational activities, there's nothing quite worse than rain.
"We have a base, but the rain just eats away at the snow even though we've got it packed down," said Frank Hoose, president of the Southern Adirondack Snowmobile Club.
Hoose said his club maintains about 20 miles of snowmobile trails around the Great Sacandaga Lake and west into the Fulton County town of Bleecker.
With moderate rainfall and temperatures in the 30s and 40s predicted for most of the Capital Region today and Saturday, many snowmobile clubs are shutting down their trails, at least for now.
"We've been sending somebody out on a snowmobile, checking to make sure we're not down to the dirt yet, but with the rain coming tomorrow, we'll probably shut them down, until we get some cold air," Hoose said Thursday evening. "If we can get some cold air, we've got a good base, so we could open them back up — if we can just get a few inches of snow — we'll open them back up. Most of the trails around us have already closed."
Dominic Jacangelo, executive director of the New York State Snowmobile Association, said the snowmobile season in New York state typically runs from December until maybe the end of February. He said this season has been up and down with snow and cold temperatures followed by warm-ups and now rain. He said many trails across the state are closing due to the rain.
"This will probably be a pause," Jacangelo said of the impact on the snowmobile season. "Rain is really our problem. We can handle a warm day, but this has been a tough year so far."
He said his organization represents 219 snowmobile clubs in New York, which combined, help maintain about 10,400 miles of snowmobile trails.
Jacangelo said the number of snowmobile registrations in New York state is down this season, having just topped approximately 100,000, compared to 112,000 last year at this time. He said the members of his organization are also down about 5,000. New York state uses the snowmobile registration fees as a source of funding for the $4.2 million in trail grants remitted to the snowmobile clubs for trail maintenance.
Hoose said his club has about 250 members.
On Jan. 19 the area around the Great Sacandaga Lake received about two feet of snow during the season's biggest snow storm. Hoose said sleds, like his Snow Cat, operate best when the temperatures are below freezing. He said his members loved the big snow storm.
"The younger kids who like to go out into the powder loved it, and then we went out with the machines and packed it right down for the families," he said. "When it gets down to the dirt it's time to put them away. With the [grooming tools] we can pull down snow and re-pack the trails, but then when there's no snow it's over. We don't want people driving over the fields and stuff, because there are winter crops and stuff."
Jacangelo said there's still time for snowmobile season to rally, as it did last year.
"I'm looking at the long-range weather and there's supposed to be some snow coming in. Behind this warm there's a cold front, which will probably generate some lake effect snow on the Tug Hill [plateau]. If you recall last year, we had the most snow in late February into March, which really extended the season," he said.
Ron Lind, from the Ballston Lake Improvement Association, said there's about an inch of rain sitting on top of Ballston Lake.
"I think there's still probably plenty of ice out there, eight to 10 inches that varies in different areas of the lake, but the rain has had an impact on the condition of the ice," he said. "People aren't going to want to use the lake when there's several inches of standing water on it. People won't want to cross country ski on it, it would be like walking through a several inch deep puddle of water," he said.
Lind said his group often advises lakefront property owners on how to put cones around their docks to help snowmobilers avoid them. He said snowmobile traffic drops off precipitously when there is excess rain.
"The way snowmobiles are constructed today, they need the snow to keep them cool," he said.
Fulton County Sheriff Richard Giardino said his county has had two fatal snowmobile accidents over the last three weekends, which is very high considering there have been seven fatalities in all of New York state this snowmobile season, and 15 the season before that. He said he plans to issue a safety warning Friday to advise snowmobilers to stay off the ice.
Mayfield Mayor Jamie Ward said his village has its annual Mayfield Winter Fest scheduled for Saturday. While he said the rain probably won't cancel the ice fishing tournament, sponsored by Fuel-n-Food, set to start at 8 a.m., the weather may determine whether the rest of the event takes place. Ward said he will make a determination Friday and post it on the village's Facebook page, as well as the Mayfield Winter Fest event page.