TICONDEROGA - The first snowmobile was built in 1913 by a New Hampshire man named Virgil D. White, he built a caterpillar track unit to be adapted for the Model T Ford. In 1925 Carl Eliason built the motor toboggan and was granted a patent on the design. In the late 1940s companies began to build over the snow vehicles called "Iron Dogs." The major breakthrough for recreational snowmobiles came in 1958. J. Armand Bombardier developed what people commonly refer to as the first consumer snowmobile and was initially called the "Ski-Dog." The company quickly changed the name to Ski-Doo and production units hit the snow in 1959. Ski-Doo is celebrating 50 years as a snowmobile manufacturer and is one of four remaining manufacturers of snowmobiles.
The first snowmobile club in Ticonderoga (Adirondack Snowmobile Club) was formed in 1969 and Doug Spring was elected president. The first meeting was held at Roxie's Restaurant on street road which approximately 65 people attended. Spring accepted the nomination to be president of the club, but only for the first year to help the club get established. Harry Geiser would become the next president and be involved through the mid 1970s. The local club organized group rides to Miller Mountain (Midnight Runs) and would enjoy each other's company while sipping on coffee and cooking hot dogs. Bob Burris built a cabin on Miller Mountain for all the local snowmobilers to enjoy, the cabin was always stocked with packets of cocoa and coffee.
Larry Huestis recalled how they would melt some snow to make their coffee. Putts Pond was a common destination used as a proving ground for their sleds.
In 1970 there was a blizzard that dumped over three feet of snow and the Ticonderoga paper mill was still being operated downtown Ti. Spring and others rode their snowmobiles to work. The following year Ti was hit with another blizzard producing over three feet of snow and Spring and his co-workers rode their sleds to the mill's new location on the Shore Airport Road.
Gordon Abare and Charlie Henry were known as the go to guys for sled repair or lending a helping hand to a fellow sledder broken down on the trail. Henry was known to practically carry his whole toolbox with him at all times. With the surge of snowmobile sales many companies began building their version of the Skidoo that were sold locally. in the 1960-70s snowmobiles were sold by: M&R Woods (Skidoo), Tony's Sports (Scorpion), Stan's Auto body (Chaparral), Smith's (Boa-ski), Thatcher's (Arctic Cat), Johnson's Orchard (Moto-ski/Polaris) Dave Whitty (Skiroule), Desmond Allen (Sno-Jet) and Wicker Ford (Polaris). In the early 1970s there were literally hundreds of manufacturers and at least nine area snowmobile dealers. However soaring gas prices and a weakening economy sent all but four manufacturers out of business. Only one local dealer remains Tony's (Skidoo).
To promote and enjoy the sleds that were being sold, some local folks began racing. Spring began building modified sleds with Abare. His's son, Doug Abare, raced these heavily modified sleds throughout the area following the E.S.R.A. circuit . They continued racing with much success through the 1980s, however the manufacturers were putting pressure on E.S.R.A. to force the racers to use current model year sleds to promote their product. Still, Doug Abare continued to dominate the circuit on an older sled. While the Abares were enjoying their success in drag racing, Huestis and Terry Trepanier were racing oval track. Huestis would race Skidoo while Trepanier would race the Moto-ski and often race each other. The E.S.R.A. circuit had races nearly every weekend at locations such as Eagle Lake, Schroon Lake and Lake Champlain. The racing was a two-day event, ice drags on Saturday followed by oval racing on Sunday. Huestis primarily raced oval, however would drag race occasionally. His first race was in Lake Placid in 1963 and his last race was on Lake Champlain in 2006 at an event sponsored by The Adirondack Trail Riders.
Others who were influential in racing sleds were Leonard Charboneau (Polaris), Bill Rafferty, Brad Rafferty, Tom Carr, Clay Rafferty, Spring, John Burke, and Gary Joiner all raced Ski-Doo. Harry Treadway, Steve Yaw and Tom Cunningham all raced Arctic Cat. Doug Abare raced Sno-jets and Chaparral. Kevin Mero also raced Chaparral.
In 1976 Huestis organized and promoted a racing circuit called E.S.A , however at the age of 21 Huestis was more interested in racing than having to organize and promote the various events. Subsequently the E.S.A. dissolved the following year and Huestis continued his racing endeavors with the E.S.R.A circuit. Oval racing continued to flourish through the 1980s, however declined in popularity and gave way to modern day sno-cross. The primary reason sno-cross has taken over the racing scene is due in large part by corporate sponsorship. Many of the modified sleds that were being raced on the oval circuit would look nothing like a factory sled. which did very little to help a manufacturer promote their product, because the average guy couldn't tell you whether it was a Ski-doo or a Polaris. Today the factory race sleds competing in the sno-cross circuit look very much like the sled people purchase off the showroom floor. Several local residents began racing sno-cross on the Rock Maple Racing venue including Derrick Fleury and his son Gavin and F.P. Tierney and his son Conall.
Various communities throughout the Northeast began to tap into the economic benefit of snowmobiling. The Town of Webb, which includes Inlet and Old Forge, began to develop an interconnected snowmobile trail system. In order to ride the trails in Old Forge had to purchase a trail permit. The Town Of Webb began to require a trail permit in 1968 and is celebrating 40 years with the annual Shootout in Woodgate followed by snodeo weekend, which is a celebration that kicks off the snowmobile season. The shootout includes drag races set up to test the manufacturers' new products right out of the crate in which they were shipped. People from all over the Northeast flock to the area to see the new sleds. Snodeo is a community wide celebration, vendors come from all over to sell the latest and greatest things to hit the snow. Saturday evening is concluded with a fireworks display and Sunday ends the event with a vintage snowmobile show.
Webb sells approximately 10-12,000 permits annually at a rate of $65- $80. A study was done several years ago about the economic impact of snowmobiling in the United States and it was determined that approximately $22 billion is generated annually. The western Adirondack region receives an estimated $15 million annually from snowmobiling. The average snowmobiler spends $4,000 each year on snowmobile related recreation and spends an average of seven nights each season in a motel or resort while snowmobiling. In 1998 the New York State Snowmobile Association, in cooperation with SUNY-Potsdam, performed an economic impact analysis and concluded that New York State's snowmobile related revenue to be an estimated $476.2 million annually. In 2003 the state surveyed snowmobilers and calculated the impact of snowmobiling had increased to $875 million annually, an increase of 84 percent in five years.
As the sport evolved so did the trail system. New York State did not initially require that sleds be registered. In the early 1970s the state began an initiative to collect money to establish and maintain a snowmobile trail system via a registration fee. The town of Ticonderoga and the state assisted the Adirondack snowmobile club with the purchase of an Alpine groomer sometime in the mid 1970s. Yaw, Huestis, Rafferty and others operated the first groomer to maintain the local trails. Ticonderoga eventually terminated its trail grooming efforts.
The Ticonderoga snowmobile club dissolved in the early 1980s. The next club established in the early 1990s, called the Adirondack Sno-goers elected Gary Olcott as president. The club that currently maintains the local trail system is The Adirondack Trail Riders who became incorporated in 2001. Several years ago the state went to a two tier snowmobile registration and offered a discount to those who belong to a snowmobile club. The state distributes funds from the snowmobile trail fund to the clubs, to aid with the purchase of grooming equipment and trail maintenance.
People can join the Trail Riders at www.adirondacktrailriders.com or can contact Karla Vigliotti at 585-7110.
The current club officers are Tracy Smith (president), Michael Vigliotti (vice-president), and Karla Vigliotti (secretary/treasurer). The Adirondack Trail Riders signed a usage agreement with the Ticonderoga Fish and currently maintain the buildings and grounds of the clubhouse. The club recently purchased a new Skandic W/T and will now operate two groomers to smooth out the local trails. The club also installed a new bridge at the Roger Street flow and Bear Pond Road. The Adirondack Trail Riders will sponsor a youth snowmobile safety course at a date to be determined. Those interested must contact Patrick Hendrix at 585-7539 to reserve a spot as class size is limited. People age 10-13 may operate a snowmobile on lands where snowmobiling is allowed, upon successful completion of the safety course and must be accompanied by someone at least 18 years of age within 500 feet. Youths age 14-17 may operate a snowmobile upon successful completion of the safety course without adult supervision. The safety course is an eight-hour course followed by a multiple choice test. The course is free of charge and the Trail Riders will provide a lunch. Tony's Sports, Wal-Mart, Jay's Sunoco and Treadway's Service center have also donated prizes to be given upon completion of the course.
Editor's note: Patrick Hendrix is a member of the Adirondack Trail Riders.