PITTSBURG — In the middle of the combined Valentine's and Presidents Day weekend, there was much love expressed as snowmobilers thanked the Pittsburg Ridge Runners for maintaining an extensive trail system and then both groups, during an annual fundraising event, thanked the Pittsburg Fire Department for keeping them all safe.
Pittsburg is geographically immense and thanks to the blessings of Mother Nature and the efforts of many individuals and groups, is a well-known snowmobiling destination.
Apart from the locals, Pittsburg attracts riders from throughout New England, as well as Canada, which is just up a short distance from the Deer Mountain Campground on New Hampshire Route 3 where Saturdays during the season, the Ridge Runners run the food concession at the warming hut.
The money raised goes to help the club cover the cost of grooming some 200 miles of trails, but every year since 1999, and possibly further back, the Ridge Runners have donated the proceeds earned over the Presidents Day weekend to their local fire department.
"It's just a nice way for the snowmobilers to give back," said Ridge Runner Bob Gaudette, who with his wife Sue, has overseen the food prep at the warming hut for the past seven years. The couple is from Alton, and for the last three years, they've been joined by Grace Carlin, who lives in nearby Clarksville.
In an inversion of the traditional snowbird route, Carlin joked that she and their husband go north to Pittsburg, not some place south, in the winter.
Gaudette said local businesses donated the food that the volunteers served and/or cooked up on Saturday and which he hoped would generate sales of upwards of $1,000.
Pittsburg Fire Chief Kevin Lassonde said every penny counts and will be used to fund his department's ability to respond to snowmobiling emergencies.
Toward that goal, he said a new wilderness-rescue trailer is being built at the fire station. The current trailer is past its prime and too-small to accommodate ice-rescue gear. The new trailer will have ample room for all the equipment and it will be heated, too.
Both trailers will contain two snowmobiles, two rescue sleds, and a variety of items necessary to treat patients on scene and also to "package" them for transport to a hospital.
This winter, the trailer has seen an "average" amount of usage, said Fire Capt. Anthony Galipeau, with Capt. Steve Kiley adding that the majority of incidents involved "riding too fast than conditions or ability allow."
The captains said time and hypothermia are the worst risks to an injured snowmobiler. Because riders will sometimes not know or become confused about where they are on a trail, Galipeau and Kiley said the PFD will send out "scouts" in both directions to find the victim.
In past years, the department has made one rescue that involved going 27 miles into the backcountry that radiates out from the Route 3 corridor.
When a patient is being taken out on the rescue sled, which Lassonde likes to characterize as a "life saver" although he conceded some snowmobilers refer to it as "the hearse," he or she is secured to a backboard that is overseen by two firefighters.
While the passenger on the department's two person machine now sits facing the sled, the second firefighter is seated at the end of the sled looking forward. The patient is usually "cocooned," said Kiley, wrapped in what's essentially a giant, extra-warm sleeping bag that is stock on the wilderness trailer and the rescue sled.
During the non-winter months, the rescue sled does double duty on the back of an all-terrain vehicle with the rear skis coming off and being temporarily replaced by wheels.
"We need have to give a nickname one day" for the rescue sled, Kiley conceded, if only because "everybody calls it something different."
Lassonde, who is also a Ridge Runner, said that ultimately, the snowmobile-riding public is what makes everything go round in Pittsburg during the winter.
"The fire department has always been grateful for the donations from the Ridge Runners," said Lassonde, and especially riders, without whom there'd be no club or trails.
Sue Gaudette said she and her husband think Pittsburg will remain a great place for snowmobiling, thanks in large part to how welcome and well treated snowmobilers are in the community.
"We've met people from every state and many countries," Sue Gaudette said, and while they're far flung, "they always seem to find their way here."