Tuesday, January 20, 2009

On ice: Mushing, carving events postponed or canceled due to lack of winter

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Organizers of an event the size of the Peninsula Winter Games have a challenging task in ironing out all the details required to hold a communitywide event, but they’d gotten it all taken care of — volunteers were lined up, space had been reserved, announcements were made; everything was ready to bring the peninsula out to the games.

But somebody forgot to take care of the “winter” part.

With the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race, Al York Memorial Junior Musher Sled Dog Race and ice carvings scheduled to begin over the weekend, the weather turned from a two-week, below-zero cold snap to rain and temperatures in the 40s, washing away hopes of events that depend on winter conditions.

“The weather’s the one thing we can’t control, and that’s frustrating,” said January Yeager, project coordinator for the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce.

Typically, the first weekend of the Peninsula Winter Games includes volunteers cutting 2-ton blocks of ice from the pond along Marathon Road in Kenai, which local carvers use to create ice sculptures around town.

On Saturday, the pond was covered with water.

“There’s like a foot of water on top of the pond. We can’t ask volunteers to go out there and do that. It’s not safe. You’re working with 2-ton blocks of ice and cold water on top of that, so it’s not good,” Yeager said.

The ice carving was canceled.

“It’s a total bummer,” she said. “There was just way too much water on there to get equipment out there and everything. And that’s one of the best things. They’re so cool to look at.”
Well, not so cool at 40 degrees.

“Yeah, exactly,” Yeager said.

While the carving event fell victim to a lack of good ice, the Peninsula Sled Dog and Racing Association’s Al York kids’ mushing races fell victim to too much ice.

Warmth, rain, then overnight freezing have left the mushing trails by the Soldotna Airport bare in spots, icy in others and with just a weak layer of crusty snow in the trees.

“It would be bad for the dogs. Dogs can’t negotiate this ice, there’s really nothing we can do for them,” said Mindee Morning, one of the event organizers. “They have a little bit of a stud system built in, but I’ve had a few dogs fall in the dog yard, hitting their chins or splaying their legs out. Put a load on that and try it, it’s not the best of things. People can do it and dogs do it all the time, but I voted for no, especially with kids. It’s really hard to fall on the ice.”

Danny Seavey, race organizer, said the event is now scheduled for March 21, to be held in conjunction with the Clark Bradford Memorial Race on March 22 — if conditions improve by then, of course.

“Just do a snow dance every single day, because dogs don’t ice skate,” Morning said. “I have a bunch of dogs, they don’t know what happened. They don’t know why they’re not running.”

Morning asks that people and dogs stay off the trails until they do get more snow.

“It’s just better right now for everyone to stay off the trails. Hopefully we’ll groom as soon as we can,” she said. “In the trees, there is snow, similar to what you’re seeing on the side of the road or any trails where snowmachines can’t go. It’s crusty on top and they’ll fall through and just pound it down into little lumps of ice.”

The Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race is in a holding pattern waiting for snow, as well. It was supposed to start this Saturday, but has been pushed back a week until Jan. 31 in hopes of better conditions.

“The reason we did that is the lack of snow and the trail conditions, so we’re giving it another week,” said Tami Murray, executive director of the T-200. “We got 4 inches of snow on Saturday night up in the hills, but we still need a lot more down low, so keep your fingers crossed.”

Pushing the race back creates some logistical challenges, especially for mushers who may have had other plans for the 31st.

“We had a couple that had to withdraw, one because of the Yukon Quest. The food drop is that same weekend,” Murray said.

Kasilof musher Jason Mackey will miss next week’s T-200 in order to get his food distributed in preparation for the 1,000-mile Quest race from Whitehorse, British Columbia, to Fairbanks.
But they’ve picked up a few more mushers by extending the registration deadline to Jan. 23. They’re up to 23 for the T-200, and nine or 10 each for the T-100 and the junior race, Murray said.

Race organizers are also trying to make sure their volunteers are ready to go a week later.

“We’re just confirming everybody as we speak. Our vets are our main concern. They take time off from their practices to volunteer for this,” Murray said.

All of this depends on snow showing up — on a timeline that coincides with forecasts and schedules.

“It will, it always does,” Morning said. “That’s where humans have to make plans, and the weather doesn’t have any plans.”

A schedule of events for the Peninsula Winter Games is available at www.peninsulawintergames.com. For information on the T-200, visit www.tustumena200.com.

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