Helmets and coats lie piled on a table at the Turn-er Inn, Edwardsville. A line of snowmobiles waits outside. Riders come here to warm up at the wood-burning fireplace and eat their fill before hitting the trails again.
For restaurants along St. Lawrence Countys extensive trail network, snow means snowmobilers, and snowmobilers mean business.
Last weeks heavy snowfall has been a boon to both riders and the restaurant owners who rely on them to keep their businesses afloat in the winter.
Peak snowmobiling season usually starts in January, but the early storms gave riders a chance to hit the trails a few weeks early.
This is a sharp contrast to the past two years, when mild winters kept most snowmobilers idle.
We have already had more snow than we had in all of last season, said Mary Jo Spencer, who owns Cedar Lodge, Parishville.
Cedar Lodge is right off the trail that links Franklin County and Cranberry Lake. During the summer, it caters to 4-wheelers and campers, but during snowy winters its business is dominated by snowmobilers.
The unusually warm seasons have been tough for business owners who count on busy trails.
Andrew D. Thornhill has been snowmobiling his entire life, and has owned Dougs Tavern in Heuvelton since 1994. The tavern is a frequent haunt of snowmobilers, and Mr. Thornhill said he remembers when the snow could always be counted on to fall, bringing a steady stream of riders to his restaurant.
They would come to the tavern, they would fuel up, and they would head to the next spot, he said.
Lately the weather has not been nearly so reliable, and business has faltered. But while it is still too early to tell, this months heavy snowfall may herald a return to form, at least for now.
This is the best weve had, probably in five years. Hopefully it will keep up; it will boost the economy, said John E. Thompson, a Heuvelton resident who has been snowmobiling since the 1960s.
Business owners said they are optimistic.
A lot of people are upset that they sold their sled, Mrs. Spencer said. Its going to be good this year for businesses that cater to snowmobiles.
Black Lake resident and snowmobiler Alex J. Colby said it doesnt take much to make a restaurant popular among riders, besides proximity to the trails.
Good prices, theyre friendly, and they dont mind us coming in here and getting their floor all wet, he said.
Cranberry Lake is the site where most of the countys trails meet, and serves as a central hub for Adirondack snowmobilers. It has several restaurants, hotels and bars dedicated to riders.
This whole area caters to snowmobilers this time of year, said Suzie E. Thaller, who has helped run Stone Manor Motel and Diner since it was purchased by Jeffrey Rabideau several months ago. The two have yet to experience a winter running the restaurant, but the recent snowfall already has brought in business.
The first big snow we had, the next day there were snowmobilers here, Ms. Thaller said.
Their fellow business owners have told them that this first snowfall was just the tip of the iceberg.
They keep warning us that its going to be crazier than weve ever expected, Ms. Thaller said.