Can-Am sled dog race canceled over lack of snow, rain in forecast

4 months ago

FORT KENT, Maine – The 2024 Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Races scheduled for the upcoming weekend have been canceled due to warmer weather and a heavy rain storm in the forecast. The race, scheduled to start on March 2, is a significant event for the Fort Kent community, bringing in thousands of racers and guests internationally.

Can-Am Media Advisor Andrew Birden said the decision to cancel was solely based on the weather. He said trail conditions were already starting to deteriorate because of warmer weather, but with rain forecast on Wednesday and temperatures forecasted in the 40s and 50s in the days leading up to the race, it did not make sense to have teams and their dogs take a potentially long trip to the St. John Valley.

“The health and safety of our participants, both the dedicated mushers and their incredible dogs, are our top priorities,” Can-Am President Dennis Cyr said in a Monday press release. “The unique challenges presented by the lack of snow have led us to conclude that moving forward with this year’s race could compromise the well-being of all involved. It is a decision made with heavy hearts, but necessary caution.”

Based on the forecast, Birden said there was a strong chance that the races would have had to be called off in the middle of the event.

Although the 2021 Can-Am was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has never been preemptively canceled due to weather. But 30 years ago, organizers had to call off the race after it started in 1994 due to unexpectedly warm conditions. Birden said the 1994 race was extremely warm, and that the temperature of 20 degrees in the morning rose to 60 degrees by the afternoon. The races were called off for safety reasons. 

Birden said the committee made this decision on Sunday in order to prevent a similar situation where the race is canceled after it starts, or where racers who have already driven up with their dogs need to turn around and go back home.

He said Can-Am leadership held a lengthy meeting on Sunday, and that he got a call at about 10:30 p.m. informing him that the race was canceled.

Since then, organizers have reached out to every individual racer who signed up about their registration. As of the cancellation, a total of 64 mushers were signed up this year, with 15 signed up for the 250-mile race, 19 signed up for the 100-mile race, and 30 signed up for the 30-mile race.

The registration fees alone which, respectively, are $350, $250, and $175 for the 250, 100, and 30-mile races, brought in $12,400 to the event. Additionally, about 90 individuals and/or organizations sponsored this year’s event.

Planning has already started for next year’s race, and Birden said some factors that will be taken into consideration include avoiding schedule conflicts with other races and also changing weather patterns.

“It’s obvious that we have a changing weather pattern that has happened because of climate change,”  he said. “And we are definitely seeing it here.”

Warmer weather can pose a significant danger to the dogs, Birden said. It turns portions of the trail into mud, which makes hauling the sleds much more difficult for the dogs. The dogs will often overextend themselves, which could lead to injury. Their paws could break through crusty snow, which could lead to injury. And the warmer temperatures, in general, will also cause the dogs to overheat.

“The dogs are all heart,” he said. “And they will try to carry that musher through the woods, regardless of the conditions. But they really thrive in weather that is in the teens and below. They run much faster.”

According to the National Weather Service in Caribou, the current snowfall depth in Fort Kent is 10 inches, and the current snowfall for the year so far is 46.8 inches. Both numbers are well below the averages for the area. The average snowfall total in Fort Kent for this date is 72 inches, and the average snow depth at this time of year is about 21.5 inches.

The highest snow depth in Fort Kent in February was 60 inches, which was recorded in 1969. And the minimum snow depth for the area in February was zero, and that was reported on individual days in both 1952 and 1981. 

According to the official Can-Am Crown website, next year’s event is already slated for March 1, 2025.

“We are so sad that we had to make this decision,” Birden said, “because the mushers look forward to coming up here. The town just really pulls together for the event, and the excitement that happens at the start was something that I know everyone was anticipating. And we’re sorry that this has happened, but it was a decision that we had to make.”