A number of debates in the Adirondacks revolve around snowmobiling, including opening long-closed backcountry roads to sleds, expanding trail networks or routing connector trials on state lands, and shared use of trails. Snowmobilers often cite their positive economic impact as a reason to expand the approximately 800 miles of groomed snowmobile trails on state land.
A new study of the 2010 – 2011 snowmobiling season commissioned by the New York State Snowmobile Association and undertaken by the SUNY Potsdam Institute for Applied Research, offers some insight. It concludes that snowmobiling statewide contributes more than $428.5 million annually in direct spending, but much of that money is spent in Adirondack feeder markets on sleds, trailers, maintenance, and equipment.
Results from the study indicate that snowmobiliers mostly live in a narrow swath of counties, New York’s snowmobile belt, along the Mohawk River from the Capital District to Buffalo; about 64% live in rural areas, but about 31% live in suburban areas. About 11% live in the North Country, compared to 25% in the Finger Lakes and Central New York, about 12% in Western New York, and 13% in the Capital Region; out of state residents are about 15% of the state’s snowmobilers.
The study suggests that the vast majority of annual spending may be occurring at or near home. About $44.5 million (10% of the total) was spent on meals and overnight trips in hotels/motels and about $1 million on snowmobile rentals (.2%). An additional $56 million (about 13%) was spent on fuel (snowmobilers are eligible for a rebate of highway fuel taxes paid for snowmobile fuel, which may skew that number).
Looking at where snowmobilers ride and how much they spend there, 28% of days were spent in the North Country, compared to 18% for Central New York, and 19% in the Tug Hill Plateau. A rough estimate based on this study’s numbers would put the direct economic impact in the entire North Country region, not counting Tug Hill, (meals, trips, rentals) at about $12.7 million. If all visitors bought gas for their sleds in the North County (an unlikely scenario, since 89% of sled owners live elsewhere) that would add about $15.7 million. In the Adirondack Park? In a winter like last winter? Who knows.
Snowmobiler experiences on the trail were also rated, and pointed to one of our weaknesses – providing information. The category with the highest disapproval rating, with 44% ranking fair and poor, was access to information about trail conditions. More than 70% of snowmobilers reported that there was good or excellent access to lodging, restaurants, and fuel from trails. About 80-90% felt that the State’s Trail Development and Maintenance Fund should be privatized and controlled by “snowmobilers themselves.”
The report also offers a glimpse of who snowmobilers are. They are overwhelmingly employed (about 82%) and retired (about 14%). About 70% have a combined household income of more than $60,000 per year and about 95% own their own home; 20-23% own a second “home, camp, or property that is used primarily for snowmobiling.”
Snowmobilers spent more than $250 million on snowmobile and trailer purchases, maintenance, and equipment. The average snowmobiler owned 2.42 sleds purchased at a price of about $5,000, the average new snowmobile purchase price was $9,400; 91% were registered, 90% insured; 86% are two-stroke models and the median model year is 2004 (mode 2006). Ski-Doo, Polaris, and Artic Cat continue to dominate the market, but 54% of sleds were purchased used.
The survey was distributed online and via mail, 5,916 surveys were completed. In comparison, the prior survey in 2003 returned 1,350 results. Another study of snowmobile dealers and businesses that depend on snowmobilers for a portion of their revenue is being undertaken by the Institute and is expected to be released later this year. There are an estimated 10,500 miles of snowmobile trails across New York State.