SAVOY - With a sunny 24 degrees and 18 inches of fresh snow, the Kanary Kats, last year's Snowmobile Association of Massachusetts (SAM) Club of the Year, enjoyed fine conditions for a 60- to 100-mile ride Sunday.
Members of the club took to grooming 75 miles of trail in town and through Hawley, Windsor, Worthington and Ashfield almost immediately after Friday's blizzard ended, in preparation for the ride, billed as a "newbie slowpoke" affair.
Rich Levasseur, of Hinsdale, with no experience and a two-month-old machine, was just the sort of connection the Kats were looking to make.
"I saw [the ride] on their website and thought, 'Sounds like just the perfect thing for a beginner,' " Levasseur said. "You learn how to ride with a group of really great folks."
Levasseur manned one of roughly 15 sleds taking off from Vice President Tom Wandrei's house at 1254 Main Road - the Kats' home base, connected to two networks of trails.
The Kats, with more than 700 members, are a proud bunch, and with good reason.
"A lot of people don't know what goes on up here," Wandrei said. "The way it functions is like a big family. We have a blast."
They maintain some of the state's best trails, according to SAM, and plan rides almost every weekend of winter, complete with family-oriented cookouts held afterward.
Perennially featured at the Snowmobile Expo at the Big E, the Kats donate proceeds from their rides and various raffles to charities and give away a yearly scholarship.
And, they hosted the state's very first vintage snowmobile ride, now an annual event, in 2008.
"If you went to a car show to see all the old cars- that's what these guys do with their sleds," Wandrei said.
Scheduled from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 16 at Wandrei's house, this year's "Vintage on the Hill" will be paired for the first time with the Kats' biggest event, the Winter Carnival.
Food, rides, raffles and more are on tap. In the meantime, riders are hoping the cold weather stays.
"Once you've got a decent base like this it just needs to stay under 30 degrees," member Steve Mix said.
According to SAM, there are 20,000 registered snowmobiles in the commonwealth, and the sport contributes $54.7 million to Massachusetts' economy. Businesses like Plainfield's Hilltop restaurant, where the Kats hold their meetings, get a big lift from snowmobilers in the winter.
As long as Friday's snowfall remains, Wandrei promised good conditions in the Kats' neck of the woods.
"We're always in touch with DCR [Department of Conservation and Recreation], and have four big groomers," Wandrei said. "We're dedicated, and if the snow's good we'll go all over the place."