FORT KENT, Maine — It’s shaping up to be a real Maine winter this year and few people are happier than the organizer’s of the state’s three distance sled dog racing events.
Volunteer committees behind the Irving Woodlands-Mad Bomber Eagle Lake 100-mile race, set for Jan. 19; the Plum Creek Wilderness 100-mile race in Greenville on Feb. 2; and the Can Am Crown 250-mile race in Fort Kent on March 2; are all reporting excellent trails and conditions for dogs, mushers and spectators.
“The race is looking awesome,” Amy Dugan, one of the organizers behind the Greenville race, said last week. “The conditions are just fantastic right now [and] we must have a good 3 feet of snow on the trails.”
Cold temperatures in late November followed by a slight warm up, then a solid freeze has created a near-perfect base for running dogs.
And over the past several weeks Mother Nature has done her part in covering that base with fresh snow from Portland to Fort Kent.
“That early snowfall and cold temperatures have created excellent trail conditions for this year’s race,” Tenley Bennett, co-organizer of the Eagle Lake race said. “Most of the snow we’ve received this season has been quite dry [and] combine that, when packed, with cold temperatures and it sets up for a hard and fast trail.”
That’s good news for races like the ones in Eagle Lake and Greenville which have been forced to cancel or drastically re-route trails in recent years due to lack of snow.
In Greenville, crews are busily grooming trails and preparing the race’s new start location near the Trailside Restaurant, meaning mushers no longer face up to five miles on the fickle ice conditions of Moosehead Lake.
“We are thrilled not to be worrying about the lake this year,” Dugan said.
The three races routinely draw scores of mushers with their teams from across the country and Canada and hundreds of spectators to their respective regions.
“The Wilderness Race offers a lot of places for spectators to see the teams traveling,” Dugan said. “This is somewhat unique in sled dog racing.”
Mushers run their teams along trails managed by the Appalachian Mountain Club and lodges at Little Lyford and Gorman Chairback in addition to the West Branch Pond Camps offer warm places for fans to cheer on the drivers and dogs, Dugan said.
“Things really are looking just great,” Beurmond Banville, president of the Can Am Crown Board of Directors up in Fort Kent, said. “We’ve had some guys out on the trails doing preliminary work as far back as a month ago.”
Great conditions also help get the mushers pumped up and ready, Banville added.
“This really gets the mushers going,” he said. “A good bunch of snow means they can get out and train the teams and start thinking about racing.”
One of those mushers is Jaye Foucher of New Portland.
“I am planning on doing all three of these races this year,” Foucher said. “It’s been a Godsend that we have had two big snowfalls where I live already. Without that snow, I’m not sure my team would have been ready for the first race in Eagle Lake.”
Mushers preparing for distance races like the three in Maine routinely put more than 1,000 training miles on their teams. When there is no snow, mushers will run their dogs using wheeled carts or all-terrain-vehicles. This year they were able to do so on dog sled long before the start of the first race.
“Conditions around where I live — the Sugarloaf region — are absolutely perfect right now,” Foucher said. “I mean, they seriously do not get better than this [with] about 2½ to 3 feet of snow, and it’s a wonderful snow, [and] the temperatures have been ideal as well, in the 20s or lower.”
That is music to the ears of organizers like Dugan.
“This is a huge boost to to any race organization to have this much snow at this time and not having to be concerned about if the race is a going to happen or not,” she said. “I am sure everyone on every race committee is jumping for joy.”
Complete race schedules for the three Maine distance sled dog races, in additon to the shorter sprint races in Brownville, Garland, Milo, Jackman, Newport, Farmington and Exeter this season, are availble at www.sleddogcentral.com and on the Down East Sled Dog site at www.desdc.org
BDN Reporter-Photographer Julia Bayly is a musher in Fort Kent who has competed in a past Can Am Crown 30-mile race and currently training a team for the 2013 Can Am Crown 30.