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Laconia sled dog derby called off due to unseasonably warm weather

Bare ground shows through a section of trail intended for the 94th Laconia World Championship Sled Dog Derby, originally planned for Feb. 17-19. Organizers called off the event Monday, citing conditions and warm weather in the forecast.
Adam Drapcho/The Laconia Daily Sun
Bare ground shows through a section of trail intended for the 94th Laconia World Championship Sled Dog Derby, originally planned for Feb. 17-19. Organizers called off the event Monday, citing conditions and warm weather in the forecast.

This article is shared by partners in the Granite State News Collaborative. It was first published in the Laconia Daily Sun.

The snow came before the deep cold, and the cold didn’t last long enough. After holding out hope for as long as possible, the leaders of the Lakes Region Sled Dog Club had to cancel the World Championship Sled Dog Derby planned for this coming weekend.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s that the club had a successful fundraising auction last month, and the money will be rolled over to next year’s race, potentially attracting racers from much farther afield than normal.

Though there won’t be any racing, there will still be a few big winners this weekend as the club will draw winning tickets for its fundraising raffle, live on Facebook, on Sunday, Feb. 19. Tickets are still available on the “Race Store” tab at lrsdc.org.

The decision to cancel, alluded to in a social media post last week, was confirmed on Monday by club president Jennifer Hollows. She said she and the club’s “trail boss” delayed the decision in the hope that the forecast for this week would change to include a surprise snowstorm. Instead, the weather predictions for this week suggest that trail conditions will only go from bad to worse, with a 50-degree day on Thursday and rain on Friday.

After “the last big storm we had high hopes. Shortly after that we realized that there were still trouble spots,” Hollows said. The several inches of snow that fell in January settled onto ground that never froze, so there were hidden streams of melting snow flowing underneath deep snow.

“There was so much running water underneath everything, it was destroying the trail,” Hollows said.

Thanks to a partnership with the city, the club has the ability to provide spot repair to certain problematic sections of the trail, by trucking in snow and blowing it onto areas prone to thinning. But there’s a limit to how much of that can be done, and this year’s conditions are beyond repair, Hollows said.

“The trail is pretty much toast.”

Laconia has been hosting sled dog races since 1929, inspired by the heroic serum run to Nome, Alaska, that saved a remote village from diphtheria, thanks to a relay of sled dog teams that delivered life-saving medicine across a distance of 674 miles. One of the mushers from that feat, Leonhard Seppala, won Laconia’s first championship.

Today, the Laconia race ranks among the more prestigious sled dog events, thanks to its history and the “World Championship” branding. But organizing the race at all has become an act of faith and optimism, with recent weather conditions forcing the club to cancel or reschedule as often as they are able to hold the race.

“It’s starting to become like an every other year trend,” Hollows said.

If that trend holds, and Laconia is able to host a race in 2024, it should be a good one. The Lakes Region Sled Dog Club was able to hold an in-person auction this winter — its first in a couple of years — which hauled in $18,000. With no race this year, that money will be added to next year’s auction for the prize purse for the 2024 race. Hollows said a bursting prize purse, added to Laconia’s historic appeal, will likely draw more racers next year, from the upper Midwest, and from more distant parts of Canada, who normally aren’t able to justify the travel cost to get to New Hampshire for a weekend of racing.

Meanwhile, another trend, negatively impacting the sled dog community at large, might serve to benefit Laconia. Many races, particularly in the United States, have run into problems with landowners no longer granting permission for courses to cross their property. That was one reason cited by the Tamworth Outing Club for relocating its race from the Lake Chocorua area to a field in the village of Wonalancet.

Hollows said the Laconia course makes use of state-owned land, and property owned by Laconia Country Club, as well as some land owned by private individuals, who haven’t showed any indication that they might close their property to mushers.

“It’s not a concern for the foreseeable future for us, we are very thankful for that,” Hollows said. “All of them are very gracious to allow us to use the property for the trail.”

Despite recent frustrations, whether due to climate change or changing landowner attitudes, Hollows said sled dog racer passions have been undeterred. The tradition remains strong, particularly north of the border, so the Lakes Region Sled Dog Club expects to have interest in a race, whenever they can host one.

“We look forward to trying to get a good race for next year,” Hollows said. “We’ll keep fighting global warming and weather as long as we can.”

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visitcollaborativenh.org. 

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