From the snap of an air rifle to the gurgle of fine wine filling a glass, it is hard to imagine a fuller week of fun for so many tastes than the Mushers Bowl Winter Carnival, held from Jan. 18 through Jan. 27 throughout the Lakes Region.

Click on the video link below to see photos from the 2007 carnival

Art, athletics and food merge in 10 days of events that celebrate the season, indoors and out. And the bumper crop of snow, ensures a setting worthy of the hoopla.

Ice skating, dog sled racing, snowshoe hikes and a broomball tournament mean visitors will have plenty of chances to get rosy cheeks, but world cultures are celebrated as well with food, wine and stories.

“The snow makes a big difference, people’s spirits are much higher,” said Mike McClellan, executive director of the Greater Bridgton Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce, which has hosted the carnival for almost a decade.

In 2007, the Mushers Bowl races were postponed almost a month and the broomball tournament and dog sled rides slated for Highland Lake were cancelled.

With the addition of a biathlon clinic and race Sunday, Jan. 20, the carnival is now bookended by snowy fun as it culminates with the annual Mushers Bowl dog sled races. For a button costing $1 and available at chamber headquarters on Route 302 and throughout Bridgton, visitors can attend all carnival events.

Biathlon is a combination of cross country skiing and target shooting held on a course on Five Fields Farm in South Bridgton. New trails were cut in the summer for the event, which event coordinator Mike Yeo, of the Maine Winter Sports Center, said was introduced to make more use of the cross country ski trails on the farm.

Those coming to the biathlon and cross country ski race should note the events, which begin at 10 a.m. are held on Fosterville Road near the South Bridgton Congregational Church, not at Five Fields Farm on Route 107, site of the Mushers Bowl races.

The race will also differ slightly from typical biathlon competitions in that air rifles will be stationed at the targets instead of skiers carrying rifles and harnesses that weight 8 or 9 pounds.

Biathlon is a sport making tracks in northern Maine with two training centers in Fort Kent and Presque Isle. Yeo said a club dedicated to the sport has also formed in southern Maine, and the expansion of the sport fits well in the Lake Region.

“This is very exciting to me personally,” Yeo said, “because of the ski history in the Bridgton region.”

Registration for both races is $15. Call Tom Gyger of Five Fields Farm at 647-2425 for more information.

Additions to the Mushers Bowl Winter Carnival are not limited to the great outdoors as Lakes Region students will be able to shine under the spotlight at the first annual Musher’s Bowl Teen Talent Search, held Wednesday, Jan. 26 at 7 p.m. in the auditorium of Lake Region High School.

With the $5 admission benefiting Lake Region’s Project Graduation 2008, contestants from seventh- through 12th-grade will vie for the chance at a first prize of $300; a second prize of $150; and a third prize of $50.

The bright lights will not dim after the show, as the Winter Carnival Variety Show, hosted by Avery Barr, Miss Teen Maine 2008, will be held Friday, Jan. 25 at 7 p.m. at Stevens Brook Elementary School in Bridgton.

The musical fun wraps up with the Deep Freeze Bluegrass Festival at the Bridgton Town Hall, 26 N. High St., at 7 p.m., Satruday, Jan. 26. Concert proceeds benefit Lakes Environmental Association and Maine’s lakes.

The visual beauty of snowy fields and peaks and icy lakes outdoors will be hard to surpass, but art lovers can enjoy a wine and cheese reception at Gallery 302 Friday, Jan. 18 that highlights the watercolor work of the late Arthur Barton, a Denmark resident who featured local farms as his tableaus.

The reception is from 5 – 7 p.m. and will be followed by a presentation Saturday, Jan. 19 at 2 p.m. of slides from local watercolorist Waldo Preble’s excursion to Newfoundland and Labrador last summer. Carnival activities at Gallery 302 wrap up with a talk and slide show on the art of Rockwell Kent, an artist who lived on Monhegan Island. Presenting the talk is Clare Knox, a docent at the Portland Museum of Art.

Local artwork will be featured throughout town with exhibits at the Bridgton Historical Society on local barns Jan. 26 at the society’s Gibbs Avenue museum, and murals by Francis Howe at the Rufus Porter Museum on Route 302. Both exhibits are open from noon to 4 p.m.

Appreciation of other cultures goes beyond the gallery walls and into the Stevens Brook Elementary School Jan. 19 as Finnish, Chinese Taoist, German and African stories, food and mementos will be on display and sale from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. at the community center at 15 Depot St.

Those who are not filled up by the food can get a taste of the Mediterranean at the second annual Bridgton Lake Region Rotary Wine Tasting held at The Ballroom in Harrison from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Jan. 19. Light appetizers and desserts will be matched with wines from the region.

Artistic endeavors will also go outdoors with an ice-sculpting contest at Stevens Brook Elementary School beginning at 8 a.m. Monday, Jan. 21. Ed Jarrett, creator of the “Guiness Book of World Records” largest sandcastle at Camp Sunshine last summer, will be on hand as part of the competition.

With so much packed into the 10-day carnival, it is still possible to say the climax goes to the dogs. Tom Gyger, who owns Five Fields Farm on Route 107, said the recent thaw and snowstorm Monday were cause for optimism about races to be held Jan. 26 and 27.

“We fared quite well through the meltdown,” Gyger said about the course through the farm orchards. “The trail sequences had only two spots that might have required work and the storm puts us back to where we need to be.”

Gyger said the melting snow created a better, packed surface for the dog teams to run on, while enhancements to the course improve conditions because the teams will not face each other passing through points on the course.

McClellan was uncertain about the number of racers coming to the Mushers Bowl this year, but the races have drawn more than 120 members of a very close-knit group in the past. It is common to see multiple generations of a family taking the harnesses for races with as few as one dog or as many as seven.

“It becomes very much a lifestyle,” said Andy Chakoumakos, a Lovell resident who raises mixed-breed sled dogs with his wife, Liz Como.

Chakoumakos said conditions near his home have been good, although the trails were a little wet because of the recent thaw. Ideal conditions would be at least a foot of packed snow and temperatures at around zero degrees, he said.

While not racing this year, Chakoumakos will be offering sled rides on Highland Lake Sunday, Jan. 27. Besides offering riders a splendid view of the scenery reaching to the White Mountains, the rides also give a glimpse into the world of sled dogs.

“People sometimes have perceptions about the dogs that are not true,” Chakoumakos said. “You get to see them pulling the sled, doing what they are meant to do.”

While the dogs take to the trails, another carnival tradition that helps pets takes place at Highland Lake with “Freezin’ for a Reason,” where swimmers take a quick dip to raise money for the Harvest Hills Animal Shelter on Route 302 near the Bridgton/Fryeburg line. The swim raised more than $12,000 for the shelter in 2007.

Fore more details on the Mushers Bowl Winter Carnival events, visit www.mushersbowl.com.

Sculpt it, sled it or sing it: Carnival time is here (multimedia)Beth Bell of Jackman her two sons each raced teams at the Mushers Bowl at Five Fields Farm in 2007. Sled dog races and skijoring events will be held there Saturday, Jan. 26 and Sunday, Jan. 27.Sculpt it, sled it or sing it: Carnival time is here (multimedia)


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