CARIBOU, Maine — More than 8,000 visitors and local enthusiasts experienced snowmobile riding and racing on Maine’s northernmost trails this weekend at Caribou’s first SnowBowl.
Northern Maine is no stranger to the snowmobile industry. Hundreds of riders from across New England make the trek to Aroostook every year, exploring over 2,300 miles of interconnected trails.
Snowmobiling is big business in The County. The most recent snowmobile economic report from the University of Maine revealed that 31.8 percent of riders who visited during the 2018-19 season were not from The County. That same season, snowmobilers contributed more than $606 million to Maine’s economy.
To grow Caribou as a snowmobile hotspot, organizers Troy Haney and Jim Gamage hoped to create the festival as a new annual event.
Based on the estimated 8,000 to 10,000 people who attended events throughout the weekend, Haney said the SnowBowl will definitely return.
“The businesses we spoke to said they were busier than they’ve been in years,” Haney said. “I think the real value in this event will be the millions in economic dollars that will stay in Aroostook County.”
During a jam-packed four days, visitors packed Spud Speedway Saturday and Sunday for The County’s first-ever Northeast SnoCross races. While Aroostook has hosted snowmobile races in the past, this was the first time that this newly formed circuit race series has come to northern Maine.
Racers traveled from Maine and other New England states to compete in 21 competition classes.
Thirteen-year-old Austin Lancaster traveled with his family from Skowhegan so he could race in the Transition [Age] 9-13 and Novice [Age] 10-13 competitions. Lancaster has been snowmobile racing since he was 4 years old.
“I like that it’s colder [in Caribou]. There’s more snow and more jumps,” Lancaster said on Saturday.
The young racer is carrying on a family tradition. His grandfather, Randy Lancaster, has been racing cars and snowmobiles for over 20 years, and his father, Brian Lancaster, has raced cars.
Most of the family had never been to Spud Speedway before and were glad to see northern Maine’s plentiful snow.
“It actually feels like winter here. There’s more snow here than in Skowhegan right now,” said Austin’s stepmother, Brandi Merry. “It feels like you’re on top of the world.”
Local youth were also invited to take part in the SnowBowl races. Four-year-old Oakley Caron of Fort Kent has been snowmobile racing since he was three.
As Oakley’s grandmother April Caron, also of Fort Kent, cheered him on, she said that the family planned on attending other SnowBowl activities.
“We’re looking forward to the parade,” Caron said.
Later Saturday afternoon, dozens of local riders took part in a snowmobile parade along the snowy sidewalk of Bennett Drive. Thousands of people gathered at the Caribou Wellness & Recreation Center that evening to enjoy music, food and drink vendors and a snowmobile stunt show.
Roger and Marissa Condon of Easton took part in the snowmobile parade and said that they were enjoying the SnowBowl festivities.
“It’s great to have an event around snowmobiling instead of just riding [during the season],” Marissa Condon said.
Mother and daughter Dee and Hailey Saucier of Mapleton spent the morning at the Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog races in Fort Kent before heading to Caribou for the SnowBowl races and evening “sledabration” at Bennett Drive.
“We would absolutely come back next year,” Dee Saucier said. “It’s a great excuse just to be outside in northern Maine.”
Other SnowBowl events drew in larger-than-expected crowds, Haney noted. Twelve snowmobile clubs took part in the groomer rodeo at Spud Speedway on Saturday, from Oakfield to Madawaska.
A snowmobile tour of the historic Loring Air Force Base in Limestone on Friday featured 37 riders, including those from Massachusetts, Rhode Island and even the Philippines. Sunday’s Poker Run had an estimated 75 to 100 riders visiting snowmobile clubs in Presque Isle, Washburn, Fort Fairfield and Limestone.
Most importantly, Haney noted, all of Caribou’s restaurants, bars, stores and gas stations were packed with people.
“It fully exceeded our expectations,” Haney said.