Amid ongoing lack of snow, Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon organizers cancel this winter's race

The 36th running of the John Beargrease Sled Dog race gets underway.
The 36th running of the John Beargrease Sled Dog race gets underway on Jan. 26, 2020, near Duluth.
Jerry Olson for MPR News 2020

Updated: Jan. 3, 2 p.m.

Organizers of northeast Minnesota’s annual John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon have canceled this w inter’s race, amid an unseasonably warm winter and the ongoing lack of snow.

The race’s board of directors made that announcement Tuesday evening, after “months of waiting for the weather to cooperate.” They cited concerns about the weather and the safety of the dogs, mushers and volunteers, saying it “was the only decision that we felt comfortable with.”

Board President Mike Keyport told MPR News on Wednesday the vote was 8 to 2 to cancel the race, which had been scheduled to start Jan. 28 near Duluth.

“We have people on the board that have been involved with this race for quite a number of years. I mean, 10 and 20 and 30 years,” he said. “And you could tell in their voices that this — and myself included — it was a tough, emotional decision.”

The Beargrease has been canceled twice before because of a lack of snow, in 2007 and again in 2012.

This winter’s event would have been the milestone 40th running of the Beargrease.

“And we really wanted this 40th running to be kind of a bigger event, and this last-minute planning might not allow us to do that,” Keyport said. “So by postponing the 40th running until next January, we’ll have more time to plan, more time to fundraise.”

The Beargrease sends full-distance teams along 300 miles of trail from near Duluth to the finish line in Grand Portage. The Beargrease also includes several shorter events.

“There have been many discussions about postponing to a later date this winter but the weather is unpredictable. Likewise, in the effort to find a postponement date and in the spirit of sportsmanship, there was not another date that didn’t impede on another established race,” race officials said in the Tuesday evening news release.

Keyport said Wednesday that postponing the race to a still-uncertain date later in the winter, perhaps in March, also would have been difficult for race volunteers, including veterinarians, who take time off work to help. And he said late-winter snow is often softer, and more difficult for dogs and mushers to navigate.

The race will still hold several fundraising events, with more information to come.

This year would have marked the 40th running of the Beargrease along Minnesota’s North Shore. That will now take place in January 2025.

Another northeast Minnesota sled dog race, the Gunflint Mail Run, earlier announced it would postpone this winter’s event from Jan. 6 to Feb. 10.

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