Mild weather turns race into mush

Lack of snow postpones Laconia world sled dog derby

“These are work dogs,’’ said sled racer, Keith Bryar, 54, getting some love from his lead dog, Maccey, sidelined by a lack of snow in Moultonborough, N.H. “They want to work.’’

MOULTONBOROUGH, N.H. - It has been a tough winter for Candy and Maccey. The Alaskan Huskies have had to cool their paws for much of the season, sledding only when their owners made the trek to snowier reaches north of Montreal.

And now, another disappointment:

This week came word that the 83d annual Laconia World Championship Sled Dog Derby, which claims the title of largest sled dog race in the lower 48, has been postponed due to lack of snow.


“You have to get out there a few weeks before and pack a base, and there’s nothing to pack,’’ said Jim Lyman, president of the Lakes Region Sled Dog Club, which manages the race.

Get Fast Forward in your inbox:
Forget yesterday's news. Get what you need today in this early-morning email.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Around New England, lack of snow is hampering sled dog races. A race in Hamilton, Mass., was postponed and then canceled; a race in Tamworth, N.H., was canceled, as well. Canadian races have been on, however; they have had bountiful snow up there.

Here in New Hampshire, snowfall has been notably aberrant. After a massive October storm yielded 22 inches of snow, the region has seen little more. In November, 2.7 inches fell, in December, 0.6 inch, in January 10.3 inches, and so far, nothing in February.

That’s 22.1 inches below normal since Dec. 1, according to the National Weather Service in Gray, Maine.

John Cannon, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said the nearly snowless season is due to cold weather trapped in Alaska that the jet stream is not pulling down.


“All the cold air is locked up,’’ he said. Cannon said the pattern is likely to hold for the coming weeks.

The paucity of snow has made for a sportless winter for many. Snowmobile clubs around here have not groomed trails; cross-country skiers have had slim pickings. The ice-fishing derby in Meredith is on, though some have wondered. To dispel concerns, the website notes in bold letters that the contest has not been postponed.

For sled dogs, who train for months and months, enduring a winter with minimal racing is frustrating, said Keith Bryar, 54, a sled racer who owns the team that includes Candy and Maccey.

“These are work dogs,’’ he said as he stood in his backyard in Moultonborough, where a brood of 40 live in dog houses, in a wooded setting. “They want to work.’’

Bryar has had to haul his dogs to Canada to train and compete this year.


Bryar, too, is frustrated. If he does not race in Laconia this year, his chances of winning the challenge again decrease because his lead dogs, Candy and Maccey, are nearly 8 years old and will probably not race next year. Without them, he said, he wonders if he will ever match the record of his father, whose sled team won the Laconia race three times; Bryar’s team has won it twice, in 2002 and last year.

The Laconia race got its start in 1929 as part of a weekend series of events sponsored by the New England Sled Dog Club.

The race’s organizer was Jim Lyman’s grandfather, Charlie Lyman, who owned a barbershop on Main Street in Laconia and a farm in Belmont and used a sled team of Irish setters to get to and from work.

The race draws mushers from across Canada and the United States, but also German, Finnish, and Norwegian racers from time to time, said Lyman who runs a construction business.

The Laconia race spans three days and unfolds on a 17-mile course threading through woods and fields. (The teams run the course once on each of the days.) Dog speeds average 20 miles per hour. This year, the purse is $14,000, raised from an auction held at a local pub.

The decision to postpone the race this year until Feb. 24-26 is not the first for lack of snow.

Organizers are optimistic that a few weeks time will make the conditions more amenable.

“New Hampshire weather can change in a hurry,’’ Lyman said.

Particularly confounding is the contrast with 2011.

Last year was a banner winter for New England sled dog-racing, when plentiful snow made the Laconia course nearly perfect.

“It was a dream course,’’ Bryar said. “The dogs were smiling.’’

Sarah Schweitzer can be reached at