A question of snow, but Winter Carnival is a go

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

WAITING ON MOTHER NATURE — Mushers may have to wait until February to compete in the annual Bowl.

Snow or no snow, the Winter Carnival is a go — but The Maine Lakes Musher’s Bowl may have to wait until Mother Nature cooperates.

Organizers will decide Friday whether to postpone the Musher’s Bowl sanctioned sled dog races and skijoring competition for a month, but all of the other Winter Carnival events will take place as scheduled, on Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 21 and 22.

A lot depends on the snowstorm expected Thursday.

“If we get enough snow, we could have the sled dog rides and snowmobile rides” on Jan. 21 and 22, since those are held on the ice of Highland Lake, said Jim Mains Jr., executive director of the Greater Bridgton Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce.

But even the ice conditions were still a bit in doubt as of The News’ Tuesday press deadline. “They think it’s fine by the edge of the lake, but they’ve got to test it further out,” and will do so on Wednesday, Mains said.

If the Musher’s Bowl has to be put off, a tentative rescheduled date has been set for the weekend of Feb. 18 and 19, Mains said.

The bottom line, however, is that everyone should relax, said Mains. “Last year we were almost in the same position, and then we got (enough snow) near the end,” he said.

Tom Gyger, owner of Five Fields Farm in South Bridgton where the popular Musher’s Bowl sled dog and skijoring competitions take place, has been consulting with Paul Field, who grooms the racing trails.

“Both Paul and I believe that, if we had snow by Thursday, we could work it up in 36 hours,” stated Gyger. “Paul said, ‘Yeah, we can prepare the site in a day and a half.’ We’d be working all night, so when the mushers arrive, they could run.” Gyger said it’s not the first time they’ve had to work around a lack of snow.

“It has happened to us before. One thing few remember is last year we did not get what I call ‘assurance snow’ to assure us the Mushers’ Bowl would come off as planned, if we got snow the Monday before the event.”

Since the Mushers’ Bowl has been taking place at Five Field Farms the past six years, Gyger said, “We’ve had a five-year stint where we’ve had it every year. The year before that — six years ago — we couldn’t do it — the first year I was supposed to have it out here (at Five Field Farms.”

Gyger said further, “Now that we’ve got five years under our belt, people say it is better to postpone it until (better weather conditions) — because you’re dealing with live animals and we want the spectators to have an enjoyable time.”

The snow pack has to be just right for the popular races, where members of the Down East Sled Dog Club compete for title points with the races sanctioned by the International Sled Dog Racing Association. The racecourse at Five Fields Farm is considered to be one of the most challenging on the circuit, and offers good viewing opportunities.

The large winner’s purse generates a loyal following of competitors and up to 50 sled dog teams compete in several different classes. Mains said sled dog racing is unique to this area “and with an effective marketing program, we are able to draw spectators from all over our region.”

Mains said more and more nonprofits are signing on every year to hold events during the Winter Carnival, which is one of the chamber’s biggest events, highlighting the economic interests of its 13 member communities.

“Each year the chamber adds new events to the program to make it more fun and interesting,” Mains said. “We are committed to making the event bigger and better than ever before.”

Participants can buy $5 buttons that will entitle them to participation in free events and discounts on paid events, as well as discounts and promotions at participating businesses. The participating businesses include Ricky’s Diner, Morning Dew Natural Foods and the Market Basket in Harrison.

Here’s a rundown of events that will take place, snow or no snow, on Jan. 21:

• Freezing for a Reason — The popular polar dip on Highland Lake, takes place at 1 p.m. (with registration at 11 a.m.). Nearly $18,000 was raised last year for the Harvest Hills Animal Shelter.

• Snow Shoe Hike Up Bald Pate Mountain — Loon Echo Land Trust organizers say they’ll hold the hike regardless, on Jan. 21 from 9:45 a.m. to noon, but may skip the planned Jan. 22 hike if there’s not enough snow.

• Horse-drawn Carriage Rides at Highland Lake Park — Free with button, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

• Ice Fishing Contest at Highland Lake Park — For Juniors under age 16, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

• Pancake Breakfast at Congregational Church — South High Street, from 8 to 10:30 a.m.

• Table Tennis Tournament at Bridgton Town Hall — North High Street, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

• Dodge Ball Massacre at Stevens Brook Elementary School — from 2 to 4 p.m.

• Nature Hike at Pondicherry Park — free with button, from 10 a.m. to noon, starting from the parking lot by the Magic Lantern Theatre, and led by naturalists from Lakes Environmental Association.

• Open House at Gibbs Museum — Featuring an exhibit of ice-cutting equipment used on Highland Lake and vintage snowmobiles, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

• Mason’s Chowder Fest at the Masonic Hall — on Route 117, from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

• Baked Bean Supper by Bridgton Lions — at St. Joseph Church, South High Street, from 5 to 6:30 p.m.

• Winter Carnival Dance at Bridgton Town Hall — North High Street, with two live bands (Wrong Road and Smokin’ Loafers), the crowning of the Winter Carnival King and Queen, and a “Taste of Bridgton” event by Campfire Grille, Black Horse Tavern, Morning Glory Diner and the Venezia Restaurant. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door for the event, sponsored by the Bridgton Community Center, from 8 p.m. to midnight.

• Teen Pizza/Dance Party at Bridgton Community Center — For Grades 6-8, from 6 to 8:30 p.m.

In addition, if snow and ice conditions permit, at Highland Lake there will be sled dog rides both Jan. 21 and 22, at a cost of $30 for 20 minutes, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., as well as snowmobile rides, at a cost of $25, by the Bridgton Easy Riders Snowmobile Club from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

If the Musher’s Bowl is a go for Jan. 21 and 22, there’ll be an awards ceremony and supper on Sunday at Five Fields Farm, at 3 p.m.

For more information, call the chamber at 647-3472.

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