BRIDGTON — It was easy to tell the mushers from the spectators who turned out Sunday morning for the Down East Mushers Bowl Races at Five Fields Farm on South Bridgton Road.
The mushers were outside romping with their dogs while everyone else huddled in the warming hut seeking relief from the minus-2 degree temperature, which felt much colder because of 25-mph gusts.
The mushers said the dogs prefer the extreme cold.
“They are fine out here,” said Alex Therriault, 21, of Oxford, who has 25 sled dogs.
But for the second year in a row, the races were called off due to a lack of snow and icy conditions.
If the races had taken place, competitors would have raced the 4.5-mile course with the goal of accumulating points to gain a standing in the International Sled Dog Racing Association and take home part of a $1,500 purse. Instead, the racers ran the course for fun during the two-day event. About 23 teams showed up for the first day of the bowl on Saturday.
Volunteers with the South Bridgton Congregational Church, which provides soup, baked goods and drinks, said about 200 people went through 11 Crock-Pots of soup on Saturday.
Sponsored by the Down East Sled Dog Club, the annual bowl features skijoring, with racers on skis pulled by one or two dogs, and sleds with three to six dogs. George Miller of Hampden, the race marshal, said the Five Field Farm course, one of only a handful in Maine, is technically challenging.
“There are a lot of twists and turns,” Miller said.
He said the competitors would have been happy to take their chances on the icy trail.
“But in years past we have had people get hurt out there even under ideal conditions,” said Miller.
The competitors said they were happy just to exercise their dogs,0 even if they couldn’t gain points at the bowl in Bridgton.
Geoff Shallard of Yarmouth, whose standard poodles, Zoey and Piper, pulled him on skis over the frigid course in about a half-hour on Sunday, said his dogs love skijoring.
“As soon as they see I am dressed to ski, they are excited,” he said.
Shallard said he has been skijoring for about five years, after discovering the joys of working as a team with his dogs.
“I have done a lot of sports and it is as fun as anything I have done,” he said.
Some of the mushers are serious competitors, including Therriault, who can do the course with his sled dogs in about 15 minutes. Therriault competes across Maine and in Canada, where purses reach $20,000 and a top placer can walk away with $2,000 to $3,000 per event. Therriault is studying business at Central Maine Community College in Auburn to turn his expensive sled dog hobby into a business.
Therriault, who in 2010 ranked sixth out of a field of about 500 in the International Sled Dog Racing Association standings, said winning part of a purse can help with the roughly $10,000 it takes to feed and care for his dogs each year.
Spectators said it is exciting to watch the dog teams.
John Millar and his wife, Maria Zodda, who live in Newry and Nantucket, Mass., once spent a weekend learning how to dog-sled. They try to make the Bridgton mushers bowl every year.
Millar said a team of sled dogs requires a lot of care and attention.
“It is like having way too many kids. There is a lot of maintenance,” said Millar.
Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org