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Winter's Snowless Start Forces Sled Dog Race Postponement

The New England Sled Dogs races are now scheduled for Feb. 4-5, a new date after it became clear there would not be enough snow for the original January date.

The snowless winter has forced organizers of the New England Sled Dogs Races in Hamilton to postpone the event by three weeks.

The announcement was made late Tuesday evening and organizer Vanessa Stasiuk-Cottle said she spent Wednesday “making phone calls all day to everyone” to get out word about the change.

The two-day event had been scheduled for Jan. 14-15. It’s now at Appleton Farms, with the start and finish near the intersection of Highland Street and Cutler Road in Hamilton at .

“It’s a definite,” Stasiuk-Cottle said on Wednesday about the postponement.

In addition to the bare ground, the weather forecast shows virtually no sign of a snowstorm between now and Jan. 14.

At least one meteorologist – Accuweather Expert Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski – said “signals are pointing toward additional cold waves coming to the East and an uptick in large-scale storms beginning toward the middle of the month.”

Organizers are keeping their fingers crossed.

Stasiuk-Cottle said there’s been no discussion about what would happen if the races can’t happen on the first weekend in February. There was also a “no snow” date for late January but the decision was made to choose the February date to give Mother Nature some more time to deliver snow.

“It’s just better to put it off,” Stasiuk-Cottle said.

Hamilton is not alone. Mushers have been headed to Canada to train, since even northern areas of Maine and New Hampshire do not have enough snow cover.

“Right now they don’t have snow up north where most of them live,” Stasiuk-Cottle said.

Even with the date change, there are no other competing races in New England on Feb. 4-5, Stasiuk-Cottle. As many as 100 teams are expected at the Hamilton races, in addition to thousands of spectators.

This will be the third year of the races in Hamilton – the only Massachusetts stop on the New England mushing circuit. The race is being organized by Essex County Trail Association, the Trustees of Reservation and Essex County Greenbelt.

In the first year of races in Hamilton, Saturday’s races went off OK, but Sunday’s races had to be cancelled because so much snow melted overnight.

Last year, the timing was nearly perfect. It but long before the mostly snowless end to the winter.

For the races to happen, organizers need just two things – frozen ground and about 8 inches of snow cover. The ground needs to be frozen so that more than 1,000 cars can be parked at Appleton Farms and across Highland Street at Groton House. And the dogs and sleds need about 8 inches of snow cover.

Even with bare ground, organizers continue to plan additions and changes to this year’s event. Stasiuk-Cottle said organizers hope to have a skating rink for children plus ice sculptures, weather-permitting.

Plus, they continue to remind spectators – – not to bring their own dogs.

Plus, the entire event happens at a new location. The Grass Rides offers more parking and a “logistically easier” start and finish areas that gives the teams more room in the staging area.

“It was tight last year,” Stasiuk-Cottle said.

Chris Cuddy January 05, 2012 at 05:27 PM
How... is this not cruel to animals? First, you put them in frigid, unbearable cold temperatures. Then you make them - make them! - race. And why? These animals are not here for our amusement. These 8,000 people (!) should be ashamed - enabling this blatant abuse.
Rise Sheehan January 06, 2012 at 03:28 PM
As event veterinarian the past two years, I can attest not only to the race organizers' meticulous attention paid to the safety and welfare of these canine athletes, but also to the specialized care, feeding, and exercise that these dogs receive from their owners. Bred to live in the arctic, these dogs prefer the cold. The leaping, barking, and tail-wagging I see as teams approach the starting line demonstrate their eagerness to run the snowy trails, and they are equally happy to be patted by spectators in the parking area. Come to the races and see these fantastic working dogs, and the wonderful bonds they have developed with their owners.

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