Necessity is the mother of invention — or at least that’s the lineage we’ll stick with until maternity results prove otherwise.

As a mom, Necessity must be overjoyed to have given birth to such productive and influential kids. Her countless offspring include invaluable gems like indoor plumbing, pacemakers and the Cuisinart.

But I have to wonder how she felt the cold February morning that human dogsled races came into the world — particularly the ones that use a shopping cart mounted to a trio of skis.

She was probably perplexed at first, wondering if she’d produced another dud, like the Yodel Meter of 1925.

But when she saw swthe human dogsled brought great happiness to the snow-bound people of New England, who had grown despondent with the seemingly endless snowfalls and frigid temperatures, she decided the creation was one of mid-winter genius.

Of course, the folks working for the City of Auburn deserve ample credit too. It was they who thought to combine a human dogsled race (with a shopping cart where the sled should be) with a snowshoe sprint up a mountain and a two-man canoe ride down.

It’s an annual six-person relay they like to call the “Really Ridiculous Relay Race,” and it’s happening on Saturday at Lost Valley Ski Area. The relay is just part of the larger Auburn Winter Festival, which started Jan. 26 and runs through Sunday at various locations in Auburn.

Saturday’s lineup of events at Lost Valley, however, offers an inventive twist on your average winter recreation.

“We try to come up with different ideas and unique things to do,” said Tracey Steuber, administrative assistant for the City of Auburn, where people understand that craftiness is the key to winter felicity.

The Really Ridiculous Relay Race kicks off at 11 a.m. Saturday. Teams of six must include at least two members of either sex, and all members must be at least 18 years old.

Lost Valley will provide the pertinent equipment (i.e., the shopping cart on skis, the snowshoes and the canoe), and each team will tackle the course individually.

Leg one: The human dogsled. Two team members will drag the shopping cart on skis for about 75 yards, while a third team member “mushes” by holding onto the cart and standing on the skis. The likelihood of the cart tipping along the way? Very high.

Leg two: The snowshoe. One team member sprints 75 yards uphill. Sounds simple, but snowshoes were not designed for high-speed getaways — or gracefulness.

Leg three: The downhill canoe. Two team members climb into a canoe and sled it down. This is where most relay injuries occur, said Steuber, who added that competitors are provided with helmets. I’d venture to say that’s because people these days simply don’t know how to handle a canoe in the snow anymore. It’s a lost art, it seems, like trash-can white-water rafting.

The event is timed, as all good races are, and the best team time wins. “It’s a blast,” said Steuber. “It’s so much fun.” Prizes include gift certificates, ski passes and T-shirts. And the title of Really Ridiculous Winners.

A half-dozen teams typically turn out for the event — with some of the same contenders returning year after year — so first timers are encouraged to watch the veterans compete to get a feel for the race and perhaps pick up a few pointers.

“It’s all about strategy,” said Steuber. “Teams really use the members that they have — and they don’t have a lot of layers on.”

The cost to participate is $30 per team, and teams can register the day of the event. They’re free to get creative with team names.

Racers can also get competitive on a individual level during the shovel races from 2 to 3 p.m. Three dollars will earn you the opportunity to ride a metal shovel down a hill. There’s no charge for any potential injury caused by the shovel handle.

And of course, there will be a white-water raft available for rides down the mountain ($2 each ride/$5 for three rides; helmets provided), because the good people of Auburn have thought of everything. The snow rafting rides run from noon to 4 p.m.

Necessity can take credit for the invention of a snow shovel. But I appreciate the snowed-in and wintered-out fellow who first thought to slide down a hill on one.

Staff Writer Shannon Bryan can be contacted at 791-6333 or at:

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