Snowmobilers get ready to take off while looking over Long Lake in in St. Agatha, Maine on Jan. 4, 2022. Credit: Emily Jenkins / St. John Valley Times

SINCLAIR, Maine – Even with a mild start to its winter, Aroostook County is one of the few areas in the state with enough snow cover and cold temperatures to support winter outdoor recreation.

With a current snowpack of 8 to 12 inches, Aroostook has more snow than even parts of western Maine, according to the National Weather Service in Caribou. Somerset and Franklin counties have similar snowpacks to that in Aroostook.

From snowmobiling to ice fishing to skiing and skating, thousands of winter outdoor sport enthusiasts have been drawn to northern Maine’s small towns for decades.

Open since January 2020, the Lakeside Lodge, co-owned by Jason Tardiff, provides lodging to sportsmen year-round with a focus on ATVing, fishing and kayaking during the summer. This time of year, the main focus is on snowmobiling and businesses such as the Lakeside Lodge wait with bated breath for the first snowfall of the year.

“It really depends on the snow,” Tardiff said. “Once the snow hit, we’ve been steady. We had people riding the trails Christmas week. I would love to see snow from Thanksgiving all the way through April 15. That way it brings more people to the area.”

The Lakeview Restaurant in St. Agatha has a reputation for being a social hub during the winter months, especially for snowmobilers. Family-run and operated since 1983, the Lakeview originally started as a hotdog and sandwich shop by Dick and Carol Derosier. It is now run by their youngest daughter Jenn Derosier who studied hospitality management at Southern Maine Community College.

Lakeview Restaurant hosts the Angel Snowfest, which raises money for cancer organizations, and has in the past held snowmobile drags and winter fireworks.

“Winter is huge up here.” Derosier said. “I don’t think people realize the impact that a good, solid winter has on the communities up here, even down to Presque Isle from hotels and even the grocery stores. It’s a domino effect and it would be pretty quiet around here if we didn’t have a good successful winter.”

This year will mark the 17th annual ice fishing derby on Long Lake, which attracts hundreds of ice fishing enthusiasts from around the country. Things will be a little different for derby goers who used to have the Long Lake Sporting Club as a nearby spot to grab some grub and warm up after spending time on the ice. The Sporting Club closed its doors on Oct. 17, 2021.

The Lakeview Restaurant has been selected as one of the locations for a weigh station this year and Derosier said she anticipates a lively weekend.

“I’m sure we’ll probably see more traffic this year, but it’s already a really big weekend for us.” Derosier said.

Besides snowmobiling and ice fishing, people come to northern Aroostook for a variety of other winter activities such as Nordic and Alpine skiing, snowshoeing and sledding. Places like Lonesome Pine Trails and 10th Mountain in Fort Kent or the Four Seasons Trail Association in Madawaska are equipped with professionally maintained trail systems.

“It’s like family.” Derosier said, “We see people come back year after year and we look forward to seeing them.”