TAMWORTH — Due to unseasonably warm temperatures that reached about 55 degrees Monday in the area, organizers are canceling the annual Tamworth Sled Dog Race race set for this weekend.
The race is a joint effort between the New England Sled Dog Club and Tamworth Outing Club.
This year’s event had been scheduled to take place the weekend of Jan. 25, but warm temperatures that month caused organizers to move it to Feb. 29-March 1.
The race goes back many decades and was first run on Chocorua Lake in 1937. The club was founded in 1924 in Wonalancet, at the Wonalancet Farm, the home of the Walden family.
“No race this weekend, the ice isn’t safe,” said New England Sled Dog Club President Rachael Colbath of Porter, Maine, on Monday. “The race is canceled for the year. We already did the rain date. Once we do that, it’s canceled for the year.”
Kit Morgan of the Tamworth Outing Club released a statement Tuesday. “Due to several days of sun and very warm temperatures the Chocorua Lake surface was found to have 6-8 inches of snow and water on top of the ice on Sunday,” Morgan wrote.
“Continued warm temperatures early this week have continued to deplete the snow in the woods, add to the water on the lake’s surface, and with a rain/snow mix predicted for Wednesday into Thursday, conditions are not expected to improve enough to safely run the race on the weekend.
“The TOC and the New England Sled Dog Club officials have the difficult responsibility of ‘calling the race’ and have done a good job in considering all the factors necessary to run a safe and successful event.”
Colbath said the New England Sled Dog Club will probably add a dry land race this year to “help offset the fact we can’t have as many winter races as we’d like.”
She said that Brian Cutter of the Outing Club is in charge of building and grooming the trail and it was he who made the decision on Sunday because of lack of ice and snow and the warm weather.
“I think he said there was 6 inches of water on top of the ice in some spots,” said Colbath.
Cutter, of Tamworth, said they need about a foot of ice to support trail-grooming equipment along with those who congregate at the start/finish line. Then they need enough snow base to protect the dogs.
Colbath said the clubs need to be able to put in a good trail with at least 6 inches of snow so there is a “solid base” for the course. She said last year’s trail was “beautiful,” and she praised Cutter’s trail-making ability.
“Safety of the dogs and drivers is always a priority when making a decision to postpone,” said Cutter in January. “The dogs would be into roots, rocks and bare bridge plank with current trail conditions.”
Colbath said there was a lot of interest in the 2020 race, and people had been coming from as far as Pennsylvania, New York, Quebec and Ontario.
“It was going to be a pretty big year for the club,” said Colbath. She said the weather has been an issue not just in Tamworth. The Laconia World Championship Sled Dog Derby was only held Feb. 14-16 due to the ingenuity of Jimmy Lyman, who owns a construction company.
She said Lyman brought in 38 dump truck loads of snow, then used a snow blower to get some of the snow in place on the trails.
“Jimmy has the manpower to do that, but if the ice isn’t safe in Tamworth, you can’t have a race,” she said clarifying that this year’s Laconia’s race was held at the Laconia Country Club, not on a lake.
Normally the race is held just south of there, but Colbath said the Laconia Race was moved to the country club because of a lack of snow at the original location.
Cutter told the Sun Tuesday, “There are no plans to move the start/finish line off Chocorua Lake; one because of the high visibility and two, the ample parking for spectators and sled dog teams. Convenience for dog teams and spectators are integral to a successful race.”
The Tamworth race was to be the last “sprint race” of the season aside from a few that would be in Quebec. Distance races are to be held in Colebrook.
According to the club website, the Tamworth event would have had: One- and two-dog four-mile skijor (skiing while towed by dogs), as well as sleds with combinations of four-dog (4 miles), six-dog (5 miles), eight-dog (6 miles), unlimited dogs (10 miles), three-dog junior (4 miles), one-dog junior and a recreational course (2.5 miles).
The unlimited race involves going off the lake onto snowmobile trails and onto Chocorua Lake Road.
Last year, the race was postponed from January to the beginning of March because of wet conditions. Prior to 2019, the last race ran in 2015.
The race, which has been known to draw hundreds of spectators, was an important fundraiser for the Outing Club.
Cutter said the club holds contra dances the second Saturday of the month in Tamworth, grooms cross-country ski trails in Wonanlancet and sponsors the junior ski program at the K.A. Brett School.
“We’ll try for a race next year,” he said.