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Sled Dog Races on Lake Chocorua are more than a spectator event - they're a tradition

Tamworth Outing Club's Sled Dog Races postponed to March 13 & 14

Sheldon Perry Photo. (click for larger version)
January 28, 2010
Having never attended one of these competitions, I sat down with Mr. Coville this past weekend to learn what the hoopla surrounding the event is all about. By the time the interview was over, I had caught the sled-dog fever, and was really hoping the event would go off as planned so I could witness the action first-hand. Unfortunately, Mother Nature is just not cooperating. Originally scheduled to be held this Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 30 and 31, the event has been rescheduled for March 13 and 14, weather permitting. Yes, weather permitting.

"In order for the dogs to safely run, there must be a snow-packed and groomed surface," explains Stan. "The race is held on Chocorua Lake and the surrounding hills. The woods trails are in decent shape, but right now there's only two inches of packed snow on our course on Chocorua Lake. With the rain, wind and warm weather predicted for Sunday night and Monday, the expectation is that even that amount will be washed away. It's not good for the dogs to run on an icy slick surface."

Stan went on, "The Outing Club is responsible for marking, grooming and packing the trails. We have a snow machine that we normally use for grooming and packing and the generous Ossipee Mountain Snowmobile Club has a huge groomer that they use to run over the trails for us. But it's not possible to properly prepare the surface without snow." Stan should know, since he's been managing the show for at least the last 40 years.

Drawing about 600 to 700 spectators per day, the race is hugely popular with both residents and tourists. The New England Sled Dog Club got its start in 1924 at the real estate office of Bostonian Walter Channing and took root under the direction of Arthur Walden of Wonalancet. The first race, held in 1925 in Newport, N.H., was won by Hi Mason of Tamworth.

Today, 85 years later, Hi Mason's granddaughter, Karen Jones, raises huskies and competes in the modern day competition. Many of the progeny of those earliest racers are still heavily involved in the sport.

Stan tells me, "My wife Nancy's mother, Clara Read, was one of the first female dog racers. Nancy's father, Richard Read, was the first manager of the races. David Bowles, who is the current trail boss for our races, his father, Roland Bowles, was a well-known racer. And now, his daughter, Marcia Bowles, has a kennel full of dogs and she races."

The whole event brings out families, friends, tourists and travelers all along Route 16 by the lake. "We get a lot of 'impulse' spectators," says Stan. "They stop and say 'this is so beautiful, the lake, the mountains, the sleigh dogs.' We hand out buttons that say Tamworth Sled Dog Race and a flyer that tells them a little bit about the race. We don't charge a fee, but we welcome donations. The proceeds from the donations go towards funding both our Babe Ruth baseball program and our Junior Ski Instruction Program in Tamworth, which the Outing Club has provided for almost 50 years."

Viewers are treated to a day-long New England experience steeped in tradition and heritage. The New England Sled Dog Club is the oldest continuously run sled dog club in existence. Spectators are welcome to walk, snowshoe or ski onto the ice. There is a bonfire where marshmallows are toasted over the open flames. Hot chocolate, chili, hamburgers and hotdogs are available from the cook shack. Sled drivers love to answer questions and have interested onlookers visit with them and their dogs. Sleigh dogs are for the most part extraordinarily beautiful animals that make great house pets and are gentle with children.

According to informa-tion provided by the Tamworth Outing Club, the first race dogs were commonly Siberian huskies, Alaskan Malamutes and the Samoyed, but northern hybrids of pointers, setters, dalmatians, coon and fox hounds were also used.

Wilmer Pautsch, a dog-sled racer quoted by the Tamworth club in their 2003 brochure, states, "Today, sled dogs tend to be more mongrel than ever because mixing breeds strengthens characteristics essential to a team dog. They must have strong backs, straight shoulders, compact tough feet, deep chest, large lungs, a tremendous heart and stamina. Their fur must be protective but not so long it traps snow. Sled dogs," says Pautsch, "are loving, trusting, yet tough as nails."

The Tamworth race consists of sprint challenges in which the fastest total time of two days of racing heats on a set distance determines the winner. As many as 70 teams compete. The longest course is roughly 10 to 11 miles. Distances and team size vary by class. The adult Unlimited Class can have eight or more dogs on the team while a juniors' class may consist of just a one-dogger. Each team has a driver who is pulled along behind in a sled. Newly added to the schedule in 2007 is an event called Skijoring, where the dogs pull a skier. The signature race, the Pinetree Power Classic Open, is usually held mid-day. Registration begins at 7:30 a.m. and the races start at 9 a.m.

Stan is joined this year in organizing the race with his event team consisting of Brian Cutter, Sheldon Perry, Helen Steele, Anne Chant and trail boss, David Bowles. They are all hoping that come March the word "Mush" will lead to the start of the race and not the condition of the course.

For more information about the upcoming event, stay tuned to the Mountain EAR. Or you can contact the Tamworth Outing Club at helen wodc@msn.com or visit www.nesdc.org.

Klumb Environmenta;
Varney Smith
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