By Roger Amsden
FOR THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — "This is the craziest winter I've ever seen. It's the winter that wasn't," said Dave Emerson of Emerson Aviation, the official ice-out observer for Lake Winnipesaukee.
Emerson wasn't surprised by the Lakes Region Sled Dog Club's announcement that the 87th annual World Championship Sled Dog Derby, scheduled to be held Feb. 12-14, has been canceled.
"I've never seen it like this. There's no significant snow on the ground anywhere. And the Broads on Lake Winnipesaukee are wide open. It's going to be the first winter since 2001 that the Broads don't freeze over," said Emerson.
The lack of solid ice cover on Lake Winnipesaukee has caused the postponement of the Great Rotary Fishing Derby from Feb. 13-14 to Feb. 27-28. And the New England Pond Hockey Classic, scheduled for this weekend in Meredith, has been moved from Meredith Bay to Lake Waukewan due to poor ice conditions.
Jim Lyman, president of the Lakes Region Sled Dog Club, explained the decision to cancel the derby.
"The lack of snow and the warm weather scheduled for the coming week are without a doubt the determining factors. Warm weather in the high 30s and no major snow in the forecast will not allow the Sled Dog Club trail crew to establish and maintain a safe World Championship trail," he said.
The sled dog race tradition in Laconia dates back to 1931, when the city hosted its first race. In 1936 the name of the race was changed to the Laconia World Championship Sled Dog Derby.
With war clouds on the horizon, the race was canceled in 1938 and sled dog racing didn't return to Laconia until 1956, when it was brought back by the Belknap County Sportsmen's Association.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the race was a major annual event and drew many presidential candidates to the start-finish line in downtown Laconia. But numerous cancelations due to poor snow conditions over the years and the difficulty of bringing snow into the downtown area for a course on North Main Street led moving the starting line first to Opechee Park and later to Old North Main Street across from the former Laconia State School property.
Even though the race has been canceled, the Lakes Region Sled Dog Club will still host a raffle to support future races. Tickets to win $2,000, $1,000 or $500 are $100 each, with only 100 tickets to be sold. The drawing will take place Friday, Feb. 12, at 8 p.m., at the Christmas Island Steak House, 644 Weirs Blvd., Laconia.
Tickets may be purchased from club members or by calling 524-4314.
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