BRIDGTON – Organizers have postponed the sled dog racing portion of this weekend’s Maine Lakes Musher’s Bowl/Winter Carnival in Bridgton.

Poor snow conditions led to the postponement.

However, other events at the winter carnival – including a nature hike, trail rides, ice fishing, dodgeball and the Freezin’ for a Reason Polar Dip – will go on as planned.

The Musher’s Bowl, which includes sled dog and skijoring races, originally scheduled for Five Fields Farm in South Bridgton, has instead been rescheduled to Feb. 18 and 19, when competitors from the International Sled Dog Racing Association will once again make their annual visit to the 27 kilometers of trails at the farm/apple orchard off Route 107.

Despite the postponement of the Musher’s Bowl, Jim Mains, executive director of the Greater Bridgton Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce and organizer of this weekend’s event, is optimistic about attendance at the remaining activities in downtown Bridgton.

“We are anticipating that this change may actually increase overall attendance when considering both events,” Mains said. “The winter carnival portion has had several new events added and more local businesses are participating. It is our hope that with only one event location downtown and at (Highland) beach, the crowd will not be split and attendance be even greater for this weekend’s winter carnival.”

Mains announced the change in plans Monday after a meeting with representatives from Downeast Sled Dog Club, which organizes the racing. While snow conditions at the farm were poor, organizers considered a move to Highland Lake, but conditions there weren’t suitable either.

“Sled dog racing, they’re very particular on how the snow is packed and they’re really afraid with the crust that it can cause little ice balls and damage the racing dogs’ feet,” Mains said.

According to Five Fields Farm owner Tom Gyger, the problem isn’t driving a team of sled dogs in shallow snow. It’s the braking.

“If something goes wrong, if someone has a foul-up out on the race course and they have to stop to fix something – a tangled line, a dog that’s got an injury – the first thing they do is throw out this thing reminiscent of a grappling hook. And if that can’t dig into the snow and hold the sled back, that sled is gone,” Gyger said. “The dogs are under limited control. These things are bred to run, and really, that’s all they want to do. So the braking capacity of the snow is one of the more critical things.”

The Musher’s Bowl has been around for about 17 years and has been canceled or postponed several times in the past, but not recently. Gyger said the last five years have been “a good stretch,” with no cancellations or postponements. “And that’s about as long in this race’s history for them to go uninterrupted,” he said.

In discussions with the sled dog organization, Gyger was offered two possible openings during the remainder of the season when racers could return. The first, Jan. 28 and 29, would be a gamble, Gyger said, with no big storms in the forecast, so he’s hoping the second date, Feb. 18-19, will allow for snow to accumulate. Another benefit to the February date is the lack of any other races on the calendar.

“There is no other dog sled race in the Northeast and eastern Canada that weekend. It may indeed add potential for a bigger race,” Gyger said.

While the Feb. 18-19 event won’t be part of the winter carnival, which runs in its entirety Jan. 21-22, the public is still encouraged to visit and watch the races in February.

“All we’ve done is change the date for the races,” Gyger said.


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