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Updated: February 16, 2024

Skijoring & sleigh rides: Even with less snow, SnowFest a boon for Skowhegan businesses

Skijoring in action Photo / JWalter Skijoring, a winter equestrian sport that originated in Norway and Sweden, is a perennial highlight of the Somerset SnowFest in Skowhegan.

From skijoring to sleigh rides, the annual Somerset SnowFest in Skowhegan brings a boost to the local economy, during an otherwise quiet time of year for many small businesses.

This year’s edition runs from Feb. 16-24, culminating with the Northeast Equestrian Skijoring Regionals, a competition devoted to an unusual sport that began in Norway and Sweden. In the team time-trial race, a horse and rider pull a snowboarder or alpine skier down a 1,000-foot track of gates and jumps. 

The annual tradition began in 2019. More than just fun and games, the festival has far-reaching economic benefits.

"SnowFest is an important event for our region at a time when sales are down compared to the summer season." Kristina Cannon, president and CEO of Main Street Skowhegan, told Mainebiz.

As for this year, she said, "The weather has played some havoc with planning, as we've had to shift plans and cancel the bi/triathlon, but generally, I think the milder weather will help bring people out to events since it's not expected to be quite as cold as years past."

This year's week-long festival starts with a kickoff event Friday evening at Bigelow Brewing, sponsored by that brewery and Baxter Beer Co. In addition, Unwined will host an ice bar at its Winter Street location next weekend.

Saturday, Feb. 24, is also Skijor Skowhegan, which according to Cannon "is always a busy day here in Skowhegan, and we frequently hear from businesses that it's their busiest day of the winter."

For the past few years, for example, the Bankery & Skowhegan Fleuriste artisanal bakery, cake shop and florist has seen 15% jump in sales during SnowFest compared to other winter weeks. The owner of Unwined said SnowFest 2023 was her company's biggest week for sales that year, according to feedback Cannon shared with Mainebiz.

Coordinated by Main Street Skowhegan and Lake George Regional Park, Somerset SnowFest aims to be a celebration of all things winter with a range of activities from winter sports as well as a fashion pop-up along with food and drink vendors. Corporate sponsors include the Hight Family of Dealerships.

Jenny Kordick, executive director of Maine Outdoor Brands, describes SnowFest as "a celebration of winter and economic vitality in the heart of Maine's Kennebec River Valley.”

"When people enjoy outdoor activities like ice-fishing and skijoring,” she added, “they're not just making memories, they're also giving a boost to area businesses. It is a great model of how communities can leverage outdoor recreation to support the local economy.”

More information

Find the full Somerset SnowFest schedule here

All events are open to the public but participation in many activities requires registration, and parking at the Skowhegan State Fairgrounds for Skijor Skowhegan on Saturday, Feb. 24, is $20 per vehicle.

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