Rough ride for snowmobile dealers

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RUTLAND, Vt. (AP) – The state’s $550 million snowmobile industry is being hit hard by a third consecutive year with little snow and officials fear a snowless winter could drive some operations out of business.

Snowmobile dealers, tour companies and hotels, restaurants and stores along the 4,500 miles of snowmobile trails are hoping for snow but there are no big storms in the forecast.

So how long can they afford to wait? It’s probably already too late for some businesses, said Bryant Watson, executive director of the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers.

“If this year turns out to be what the forecasters are projecting, then I would expect as much as 50 percent of the dealers out there to close or to drop or lose one or more of their manufacturers franchises,” Watson said. “I’m worried that in the long-term, if we have more winters like this, a lot of the mom-and-pop operations that are almost totally reliant on snowmobiles for their winter business would be forced to close.”

Of the 4,500 miles of VAST-maintained trails across the state, only about 30 miles of trails in Jay and Richford have opened this season, Watson said.

A number of businesses are struggling. Pearl Street Motors in Montpelier still does repairs but discontinued its 20-year-old snowmobile dealership two weeks ago, said Dennis Gove, one of the owners. “If you can’t sell them, you’re still paying interest on them,” he said of the machines. “This year we’ve sold none.”

During a winter like this Klaus Weirether of Killington Snowmobile Tours wishes his business was more versatile.

“I feel like we’re affected the worst because that’s all I have to sell is a ride on the snow,” he said.

In a normal winter, he offers tours on 30 miles of trails. This winter he’s restricted to evening tours on manmade snow on Killington’s ski slopes.

In Danville, the lack of snowmobilers who usually converge on Marty’s First Stop near the intersection of trails has affected more than the store, said owner Martin Beattie.

“I’ve had to cut my employees back so even the kids in school are feeling this. The vendors who sell me coffee or chili are feeling this and my fuel supplier, Marble Gas, is feeling it too,” he said.

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