Snowmobile racing will return to Aroostook in a big way with the first ever SnowBowl festival in Caribou this March. Credit: Melissa Lizotte / Aroostook Republican

CARIBOU, Maine — Caribou’s inaugural snowmobile festival is coming this March and will provide a major economic boost to the region.

The long winters and plentiful snowfall have traditionally made The County a prime destination for snowmobile enthusiasts. The most recent snowmobile economic report from the University of Maine shows that 31.8 percent of snowmobile riders who visited during the 2018-19 winter season were not from the area. 

Though no official study has been done since then, local snowmobile clubs have noticed a steady increase in out-of-state riders

Thanks to two Caribou business owners and their connections to New England’s snowmobile world, more than 5,000 people are expected to flock to Caribou for a full weekend of riding, racing and celebrations. The event, along with the Can-Am International Sled Dog Race based in Fort Kent in the St. John Valley the same weekend, will provide a huge economic boost to northern Aroostook County.

The city’s SnowBowl will be held March 2-5 and feature stunt shows, a community snowman contest, a trail groomer obstacle course and the first circuit snowmobile races in Aroostook since Madawaska’s former snowmobile festival in 2011.

Northeast SnoCross is a snowmobile race series that opened a practice track in Naples in late 2022, and has since lined up its first series of races in southern Maine and New York. Racers from New England and as far south as New York will join local riders for events at Spud Speedway in Caribou on March 4 and 5.

“This is a high-action sport that will bring in professional racers and locals,” said Troy Haney, owner of Spud Speedway.

The races in Madawaska were part of the United States Cross Country racing circuit based in Minnesota.

Haney has partnered with Jim Gamage, owner of 180 Sealcoating & Stripping in Caribou, to launch what they hope will become an annual gathering of snowmobile fans.

A longtime rider himself, Gamage had been snowmobiling in Aroostook for more than a decade before he and his wife Michelle purchased a home in Caribou. 

During the pandemic, the couple decided to permanently move from Rockport to Caribou because of the region’s friendly atmosphere and plentiful winter recreational opportunities for their 12-year-old son Noah.

After attending snowmobile and ATV events across Maine and New England, Gamage realized that Caribou deserved its own chance to help others discover Aroostook’s prime snowmobile trails.

“The people are so welcoming and the trail system is the best in Maine,” Gamage said. “You’ve got fields, lakes, woods, any type of riding you could want.”

Through four days of events, Gamage and Haney want to showcase Aroostook’s trails and the hard work that local volunteer clubs put into maintaining them.

On Friday, March 3, riders will embark on a historic trail tour from Caribou Park & Ride to destinations along the former Loring Air Force Base. The group will travel along the U.S.-Canada border trail to Van Buren before returning to Caribou. 

The following night will feature a show from the Portland-based RaveX snowmobile stunt team along Bennett Drive. The street will remain closed for a snowmobile parade, bonfire, a beer garden, food vendors and live music.

Anyone who missed the historic trail tour will be able to join the Snowmobile Clubs Poker Run on March 5. From 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., people can purchase game cards at Spud Speedway and then travel to clubs in Washburn, Presque Isle, Fort Fairfield and Limestone for cards, food and drinks. The Poker Run grand prize will be $2,500 while second and third places will receive $1,000 and $500, respectively.

“If you haven’t booked your hotel room [for the festival], you might want to make that a priority,” Gamage said. “I’ve called all the area hotels and they’ve said the number of rooms available is shrinking.”

Whether some people are looking to relocate or visit their favorite trails, Gamage and Haney hope that their SnowBowl becomes a sought-after event and a showcase of what the Caribou region has to offer.

“Caribou is becoming a destination town of Aroostook because of [our summer festivals] Thursdays on Sweden Street and Caribou Cares About Kids and our fall craft fair,” Haney said. “It’s time we add a winter event that will bring people to Caribou.”

Correction: A previous version of this report incorrectly stated that Caribou’s SnowBowl will be the first snowmobile festival in Aroostook. Madawaska had the first festival.