SODA SPRINGS, Calif. - Unfavorable current and projected Sierra snow conditions led to the cancellation of next month's Jack London Commemorative Sierra Sled Dog Derby, officials said this week, placing doubt as to when competitive sled dog racing will return to the region.The derby - which would have been the first sled dog race in Truckee/North Tahoe in 16 years - was scheduled for March 2-3 at Royal Gorge Cross Country Ski Resort."After careful assessment of trail characteristics, current conditions and projected weather, we found that we could not ensure our ability to conduct the race on the scheduled date in a manner that would guarantee safety for both the dogs and mushers," said Preston Springston, vice president of Sierra Nevada Dog Drivers, in a statement to the Sierra Sun.Last October, Sierra Nevada Dog Drivers, a California nonprofit, announced it had signed a one-year trial deal with Sugar Bowl Resort (which owns Royal Gorge) to run the commemorative race, said John Monson, the resort's director of sales and marketing.Much of the race's route was plotted in the Van Norden Meadow between Sugar Bowl and Royal Gorge. After a tour of the area last Thursday with Springston, other mushers and Sugar Bowl staff, Sierra Nevada Dog Drivers decided to pull the race, Monson said."When we laid out the course and looked at the turns and banks, it was apparent it might not be the venue for sled dog racing," said Monson.The greater Truckee/Tahoe region has seen dry conditions ever since a series of storms dumped 5 to 7 feet of snow around the December holidays. Despite a small storm dumping a few inches of snow this week, the conditions in Van Norden were "more like ice" than snow, Springston said Monday, which is dangerous for mushing because dog sleds have plastic runners - unlike skis or snowboards with metal edges - therefore making sharp turns on packed snow hard to manage."You can't really carve a turn. These sleds go fast, they can do 3-minute miles, going 20 mph, and faster going downhill, and when there's a turn involved ... there's very little stability," Springston said. "In my experience of running races over the past 20 years, it's unfortunate, but (canceling the race) was the right move."Whether competitive mushing will return to the North Shore is unclear, Springston said.According to various reports, sled dog races were a big part of Truckee's history, as the sport developed in California during the Truckee winter carnivals in the late 1890s, and the first sled dog race in the "lower 48" was held in the community in 1915 and was attended by London.Mushing continued to be popular in the region throughout the 20th century, highlighted by annual races starting in 1979 at Truckee Tahoe Airport. However, chronically poor snow coverage forced many races to be canceled, and the last was held in 1997."I would like to (bring a race to Truckee) ... but I just don't know," said Springston, who competed in that 1997 race. "It's getting to the point with global warming and all this change in weather patterns - this year I've maybe spent three weeks on the sled - it's not easy."Aside from the weather, an appropriate venue is not easy to find, Springston said, because aside from a complex trail system, large parking areas for competitors and spectators also are needed."We're not ruling out the potential for a future race (at Sugar Bowl)," Monson said Monday. "But if and when it were to happen, there would have to be a markedly different promoter/venue agreement in place."In his statement, Springston thanked a slew of volunteers and businesses offering support, including: WellPet/Eagle Pack Dog Food, North Lake Tahoe Resort Association, Sierra Pet Clinic, Mark Tanner Construction, Mountain Home Center, Don's Welding, Stone's Tire, B&B Plumbing, The Real Graphic Source, Pet Station and Branded Screen Printing.Event sponsors are being offered a full refund of their donations, said Springston, adding that had Sugar Bowl not been gracious enough to offer its venue in the first place for free, the race would not have come as close as it did to fruition."Sugar Bowl was really trying to do something for the community and help bring back a historic event," Springston said. "We've been working with Sugar Bowl since June and July - a lot of time went into planning this ... I've got 500-600 hours of time invested, other members had several hundred, we put a huge amount of effort into it - it's depressing not to be able to do it."
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