Summer is the perfect time to be thinking of riding someplace new and interesting next winter — and if you haven’t been to New Hampshire, you might want to add it to your list! The story below first appeared in the December 2014 issue of Snow Goer magazine. It was shortened for the website. — Editor
The axiom that “timing is everything” is particularly apt in the world of snowmobiling. The vagaries of winter weather – for better or worse – can quickly alter trail conditions and travel plans, so dedicated sledders know it’s important to be flexible and adaptable. The 2013-14 season’s unusual weather pattern – particularly the path of the all-important jet stream – produced dismal conditions in portions of the Pacific Northwest while bringing bonanza snowfalls to the Midwest and East.
My plans for a March trip to Oregon were doused by rain in the Cascade Mountains, so instead of booking a flight to Portland, Oregon, I did the next best thing and booked to the other Portland – the one in Maine. Fortunately, New England was enjoying a very snowy winter and conditions looked good. Best of all, it started snowing during my drive from the Portland airport to my destination of Gorham, New Hampshire, and when I awoke the next morning, there was a foot of fresh powder to enjoy.
Good timing, indeed.
What I experienced was two very different days – one wonderful and snowy, the next equally wonderful under brilliant blue skies. Whether we were pushing powder, crossing incredible bridges, steering through dense forests, viewing wildlife or enjoying scenic overlooks, the Granite State exceeded every expectation.
New Hampshire Snowmobiling: A Snowy Start
My hosts for two days were Roger Wright and Gail Hanson, the president and executive director, respectively, of the New Hampshire Snowmobile Association. Our headquarters was the Town & Country Inn and Resort, a large and comfortable establishment that has been welcoming snowmobilers for decades.
At breakfast we met our fourth rider, conservation warden Glen Lucas, an avid sledder who enjoys patrolling the trails. My mount was a trusty Arctic Cat F 570 from Northeast Snowmobile Rentals.
Our ride began with a westward run along a pipeline right-of-way on the edge of town, where trail spurs provided access to a variety of businesses. Before long we were headed north to Jericho Mountain State Park, an 11-square-mile property that opened in 2005 with more than 50 miles of ATV trails, many of them open for snowmobiling.
We made most of the climb on a beautifully groomed trail, but were pushing powder for the last quarter-mile to our destination – a scenic lookout with an amazing warming hut. Built in 2011 under the direction of the White Mountain Ridge Runners snowmobile club, it’s a deluxe log cabin with a wood stove and a stereo sound system that turns itself off after visitors leave: a nice touch.
The cabin overlooks the forest, but light snow obscured our view. After chatting with other sledders inside the cabin, we descended into nearby Berlin. The trail skirted downtown and crossed a bridge over the Androscoggin River, with sleds using the snow-packed sidewalk. Leaving Berlin, we headed west on a perfectly groomed rail trail alongside the rushing Androscoggin. Turning south, we returned to Gorham and traversed the impressive 660-foot long trestle – a remnant of the Boston & Maine Railroad – surveying the wide valley and mountains beyond.
After lunch at Mister Pizza, we set off to break trail on the nearby 17-mile Pine Mountain Loop within the White Mountain National Forest. After working our sleds hard on the uphill climb, we hoped to enjoy a scenic view at the mountaintop camp, but it was too snowy to see much so we didn’t stay long before making our descent over the remainder of the circuit.
After refueling our sleds back in Gorham, Roger and I set off eastward for a run into Maine, about 15 miles away. The first two miles on the pipeline right-of-way were like a roller coaster, with several exhilarating dips and climbs. The trail continued into the woods, with lots of twists and turns over undulating terrain. The new snow had been churned up by some sled traffic, but it wasn’t long before we encountered an oncoming groomer. That made our ride smoother, but there were still occasional snowy twigs hanging over the trail, clacking on our hoods and helmets.
At the border, we crossed the Wild River on a new steel bridge, turning the sleds around on the other side and admiring the impressive arched span. “There used to be a beautiful suspension bridge here,” Roger explained. “It was only five or six years old when it got washed away during the flooding caused by Hurricane Irene in 2011. This is a key route connecting the two states, so that was a real blow to the trail system. Because there was so much devastation throughout the region, it took awhile for the Forest Service to get this replacement approved, funded and built.”
It was sunset when we parked the sleds back at the hotel. Our adventure had covered almost 100 miles, made all the more enjoyable by the new snow and well groomed trails.
New Hampshire Snowmobiling: Sunshine & Groomers
Our objective the next day was to make a loop trip north with the town of Errol as our lunch destination. The weather conditions were ideal – 25 degrees F and sunny – so we knew we had a glorious day ahead of us.
Our first leg was over the long trestle and then along the Androscoggin River before heading into the woods on a beautifully groomed trail over rolling terrain, with plenty of curves to make it interesting. Along the way, we overtook a groomer – the first of six we’d encounter this day.
After a stop at the Roger Marois Sr. Memorial Bridge, we encountered two moose within a mile, both looking us over from the woods as we passed. Before reaching Errol, we crossed the Androscoggin and cruised through the 13 Mile Woods Community Forest. The property adjoins the huge Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge and provides a haven for all kinds of wildlife.
Our lunch stop was at the popular Hawg Trawf, a rustic, family-owned restaurant famous for its variety of barbecue offerings. Following our midday repast, we refueled the machines and began our return trip. As we headed south, giant windmills were spinning on the western skyline atop distant Mount Kelsey. Continuing our journey, we came upon two groomers working in tandem, each smoothing half the trail to create a 16-foot-wide ribbon of snowy perfection. There were plenty of views to enjoy over the final miles, but the most spectacular was the Presidential Range (Mounts Adams, Jefferson and Madison) forming the backdrop as we arrived back at Gorham with 117 miles on our odometers.
This was my second visit to New Hampshire and I’m already looking forward to my third – I wholeheartedly recommend Granite State snowmobiling. With 7,300 miles of trails statewide, there’s plenty to explore and enjoy.
New Hampshire Snowmobiling: More Information
For details on the state trail network, visit nhtrails.org.
For info on regulations, go to wildlife.state.nh.us
For lodging, contact the Town & Country Inn and Resort at 800/325-4386 or www.townandcountryinn.com.
For sled rentals, contact Northeast Snowmobile Rentals at 800/458-1838 or northeastsnowmobile.com.
For local club and trail info, visit whitemtridgerunners.com or presidentialrangeriders.org.