BRIDGTON – The 14th edition of the Bridgton Winter Carnival and Musher’s Bowl kicks off Friday night, Jan. 25, with the traditional Midwinter Meltdown Dance, where a king and queen of the carnival will be chosen.

After the dancing is done, which isn’t usually until late Friday night, the dogs and their drivers will be in hot pursuit of the sled dog trophies at the Musher’s Bowl held on the challenging and beautiful Five Fields Farm race course in South Bridgton.

With last winter’s race a fizzle due to lousy conditions, this year’s race is looking promising with early snow providing a good base layer to the course, said Musher’s Bowl organizer Jim Mains of the Greater Bridgton Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce, the weekend’s overall sponsor.

“Last year, we had to split it up. We were able to run the races Saturday but had to cancel Sunday since the track was mushy,” Mains said. “The sled dogs are very particular, and the track has to be just right. But it’s looking better all the time, the snow has really helped us. The track at Five Fields Farm, they’re doing a lot of work on that and that’s coming along very well. We are confident we will be fine.”

Besides the two days of sled dog racing, which includes the rising sport of skijoring where skiers are towed by one or several dogs, Bridgton big wintertime bash will include in-town events as usual. The biggest draw is the Freezin’ for a Reason at 1 p.m. Saturday at Highland Lake Beach in downtown Bridgton.

The annual fundraiser for the Harvest Hills Animal Shelter in Fryeburg usually draws dozens of hardy dippers. With crowds ringing an open section of water, standing on high snowdrifts to get a better view, thousands of people cheer on the brave dippers who usually raise tens of thousands of dollars for the animal shelter.

Highland Lake Beach serves as the in-town base for the Winter Carnival. There you will find an ice fishing derby for kids on Saturday, sled dog rides and horse-drawn carriage rides.

New this year will be information kiosks highlight various community organizations such a the Bridgton Recreation Advancement Group at the Highland Lake Beach.

Also in the beach area will be tents for carnival games for kids. Mains said the 14-member committee that helps organize the Winter Carnival aims to get more kids excited about coming out.

“We’ve got a lot of children’s games, trying to bring more people into town,” Mains said. “So, we’re going to have some tents at Highland Lake with carnival games. We’re working with the high school on that.”

Also taking place in the downtown is a nature hike slated for Pondicherry Park and a table tennis tourney on Saturday at the historic Bridgton town hall on Saturday on North High Street.

“It’s amazing the competition they get. They get some really high-quality competition, a lot of state champions. I went last year and was totally blown away by how good they are,” Mains said.

Trying to get people into downtown is the name of the Winter Carnival game, Mains added. And once they’re there a $5 Winter Carnival/Musher’s Bowl button, which they receive when they enter the gates at Five Fields Farm, can qualify button-holders for discounts at select downtown businesses.

“We’re really trying to generate traffic through town, bring people to the area. And we’re trying to promote the downtown region,” Mains said.

All proceeds from the $5 button go to the chamber, although those proceeds usually barely cover the cost of hosting the event. The button, always a colorful winter-inspired design, was created by Michelle Hapgood, owner of Campfire Grille. Chuck Hamaty of Maine Street Graphics crafted the buttons, Mains said. Both Bridgton businesses are chamber members.

The Freezin’ for a Reason polar plunge to benefit Harvest Hills Animal Shelter is always a big crowd favorite at the Bridgton Winter Carnival/Musher’s Bowl.   
Skijoring, a sport in which a cross-country skier is aided by one or more dogs, is picking up in popularity at the Musher’s Bowl.   

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.