Laconia trails primed for World Championship Sled Dog Derby

Union Leader Correspondent
February 16. 2017 12:29AM
Keith F. Bryar II drives his pack of sled dogs through the Laconia World Championship Sled Dog Derby in 2013. Bryar, of Moultonborough, died last Feb. 20. (DAN SEUFERT File/Union Leader Correspondent)

LACONIA — The snowstorms that have pummeled the Lakes Region and the Granite State in recent weeks have been just enough to set the stage for classic sled dog races this weekend on the city’s outskirts.

The 88th Laconia World Championship Sled Dog Derby had to be postponed from a week ago because there wasn’t enough good snow to lay down the 14½-mile track. But that delay turned out to be a blessing, said race chief Jim Lyman, because it allowed the race to be held on the only weekend in 2017 in which champion racers from Quebec do not have a race.

Lyman said Wednesday night’s snow was the topping the track would need for the races. And the delay means past champions and all-world Quebec sled dog racers Claude Bellerive, Rejean Therrien, and Guy Girard will all be on hand. Therrien will be there to defend his Laconia crown as the race’s last winner.

All three days forecast in the 30s and 40s and sunny, just warm enough to put an edge on the trail, which Lyman said began to resemble “a winter wonderland” this week. Large crowds are expected, as is U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan.

One person won’t be there, though, and his absence is already breaking hearts and tearing eyes. This race is named in memory of Keith F. Bryar II of Moultonborough, the last American winner of the race (2011) and a man who many felt was the heart and soul of the derby.

Bryar lost a long battle with leukemia on Feb. 20 of last year at the age of 57. A tall man with a broad smile, he placed in the top three spots many times and won the derby twice, in 2002 and in 2011, just months after his leukemia diagnosis. He also was the Canadian Sled Dog Champion in 2005, during a year that he toured Canada.

Win, place, or finish, Bryar was a powerful racer with a big heart.

“It is going to be an emotional roller coaster for everyone,” said derby staffer Jen Hollows. “He was a huge part of my family’s life, he was like a second father to me. We owe it to him to celebrate his life and his greatest passion — this race.”

The derby, which is sanctioned by the International Sled Dog Racing Association, will have the largest purse ever at $18,215. The conditions may be the best in years, and that’s pleasing for a group of race organizers who had to cancel derbies because of a lack of snow in 1998, 2005, 2006, 2010, 2012 and last year.

For those attending, there will be many points along the race route to watch. The start and finish lines will be near the north end of Old North Main Street. The races begin at 10 a.m. Friday and run through Sunday afternoon.

There will be lots of memorabilia on hand, including lots of Keith Bryar II buttons. Many of the Quebec racers, some of whom were close to Bryar, will be racing to win as a way to honor him, Lyman said.

“It should be a great weekend of racing,” Lyman said, emotionally. “The only different part of this year is that Keith won’t be here.”

AnimalsSportsOutdoorsWinter FunLaconia

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