Lack of Snow Prompts Cancellation of Longest Sled Dog Race in Eastern U.S.

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Jonathan Hayes woke up at 5 a.m. in rural Maine to feed his 20-some dogs Monday morning, and his heart sank when he learned that the sled race they had been training for since the fall was canceled.

The Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Race, the longest sled-dog race in the Eastern United States, will be canceled for the first time since the race’s inception more than three decades ago because of a lack of snow, event organizers said.

The news came as a blow to the mushers who spent long hours training to prepare for the event, which was to be held from March 1 to March 5 in Fort Kent, Maine, which borders Canada.

Mr. Hayes, a high school biology teacher, had spent hours training with his dogs after his family went to bed. “I’ve been pushing myself training and conditioning for the last six months for something that just got canceled,” Mr. Hayes said. “It’s hard.”

The decision to cancel was a matter of safety, said Dennis Cyr, president of Can-Am. Since there isn’t as much snow this year, there will be an abundance of vegetation, brush, rocks and gravel exposed on the trails.

“It wouldn’t be safe to run the dogs, or the volunteers to be out at the remote checkpoints,” Mr. Cyr said. “We don’t want to expose our mushers to that or ruin our reputation by having a sloppy race this year.”

For the fall and winter, Fort Kent had about 58 inches of snowfall, compared with the 72 inches that typically falls in the area, said Timothy Duda, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Caribou, Maine.

Scientists say it is hard to attribute a single anomalous weather event to climate change. But winters in the United States have become milder in recent years, and winters are warming faster than summers.

Mushing has a deep heritage in Northern Maine, Mr. Cyr said. In the early 1900s, dog sledding, or mushing, was a common way of traveling during the winter months in many northern parts of the United States and Canada and eventually grew into a form of recreation.

The Can-Am race has garnered respect from mushers over the years, and is even a qualifier for the Iditarod, a famous annual long-distance sled dog race held in Alaska.

Sixty-four teams were slated to compete in three races — a 30-mile race, a 100-mile race, and a 250-mile race, which draw roughly 5,000 to 10,000 spectators each year, Mr. Cyr said. Many of the mushers traveled from the Midwest, Quebec and one in France was even planning to attend.

Typically all those spectators and competitors also give a nice boost to Fort Kent’s economy, Mr. Cyr said.

“You can never book a motel room within a year’s time from Cam-Am weekend,” Mr. Cyr said. “Local restaurants, gas stations, convenience stores are normally full on this weekend.”

The organizers start to plan a year in advance to get sponsorships, plan fund-raising banquets and set up trails and contact logging companies to find out where they are going to be harvesting lumber and reroute around those parts.

This is the first year organizers decided to cancel. There were two years in which they rerouted slightly because of trail issues. During the Covid pandemic, they held a “virtual race” in which they told mushers to keep track of their trail systems using GPS and they had to complete a certain amount of miles in a certain time frame.

They are hoping not to have to cancel again anytime soon.

“We look forward to welcoming you back in 2025,” event organizers wrote on social media, “under more favorable conditions, to celebrate the spirit of sled dog racing together.”



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