FORT KENT — Downtown was alive once again Saturday morning with the hoots of fans and howls of dogs as 54 mushers and their sled teams streaked down West Main Street to start the Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Races.
Tristan Longchamps of Pont-Rouge, Quebec, racing in the Willard Jalbert, Jr. 100-mile race, was the first to let loose his dog team at 8 a.m. down the track of snow created overnight on the main road through town by public works crews.
Longchamps, son of Can-Am veteran Andre Longchamps, was one of 18 mushers in the mid-distance event this year. Returning for another shot at the 100-miler this year were Maine mushers Rico Portalatin of Milo and Jessica Holmes of Portage Lake.
With temperatures in the 30s and a mixture of flurries and sunshine, fans eventually lined both sides of the street around the starting area and down the first section of the race course running through downtown. Veterinarians, who gave all the dogs an initial check Friday, were once again taking one last look before each team made its way into the starting chute.
Jeffrey Baril, from St. Gabriel de Brandon, Quebec, was the first competitor to take off shortly after 9 a.m. in the Pepsi Bottling and Allen’s Coffee Flavored Brandy Can-Am Crown 30. This year’s 30-mile race features more than 20 mushers from Maine, Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Virginia, Vermont and Utah.
Defending Irving Woodlands Can-Am Crown 250 champion Martin Massicotte of Saint-Tite, Quebec, took off in the fifth position around 10:30 a.m. in the longest of the three races, the 250-miler. Maine musher Amy Dionne of St. David headed out onto the course in the ninth slot, one of 13 teams in this year’s long distance marquee event.
Spectators gathered at Lonesome Pine Trails ski hill soon after the start, to await the first finishers in the 30-mile race, who were expected to start coming in mid afternoon.
The 100-mile racers should start arriving Saturday night, while the 250 mushers and dogs won’t be coming in until late Sunday or early Monday morning.