Every winter, snow conditions permitting, the Tamworth Outing Club, in cooperation with the New England Sled Dog Club, hosts The Tamworth Sled Dog Race on Chocorua Lake and the surrounding hills. First run in 1937, the Tamworth Sled Dog race is one of the oldest sprint sled dog races in the country.
Drawing about 600 to 700 spectators per day, this sled dog race is hugely popular with both residents and tourists. The race is usually held on the last weekend in January, but is dependent upon snow conditions on the lake and the surrounding trails. The Tamworth Outing Club is responsible for marking, grooming and packing the trails.
The races consist of sprint challenges in which the fastest total time of two days of racing heats on a set distance determines the winner. Each team has a driver who is pulled along behind on a sled. As many as 50 teams compete. The longest course is usually 10 to 11 miles. Distances and team size vary by class. The adult Unlimited Class can have eight or more dogs on the team, while a juniors’ class may consist of just a one-dogger. The races include an event added in 2007 called Skijoring, where the dogs pull a cross-country skier. The signature race, the Pinetree Power Classic Open, is usually held mid-day. Races start at 9am.
The New England Sled Dog Club is the oldest continuously run sled dog club in existence. The club got its start in 1924 at the office of Walter Channing and took root under the direction of famed Chinook sled dog racer and breeder Arthur Walden of Wonalancet. The club’s first sled dog race, held in 1925 in Newport, NH, was won by Hi Mason of Tamworth.
The first race dogs were commonly Siberian huskies, Alaskan Malamutes and the Samoyed, but northern hybrids of pointers, setters, dalmatians, coon and fox hounds were also used. Today, sled dogs tend to be more mixes because mixing breeds strengthens characteristics essential to a team dog. They must have strong backs, straight shoulders, compact tough feet, deep chest, large lungs, a tremendous heart and stamina. Their fur must be protective, but not so long it traps snow.
The whole event brings out families, friends, tourists and travelers along Route 16 by the lake, including many “impulse” spectators who are driving by and stop. The races are free to all spectators, but the Tamworth Outing Club welcomes donations. Viewers are treated to a day-long New England experience steeped in tradition and heritage. Spectators are welcome to walk, snowshoe or ski onto the ice. Hot chocolate, chili, hamburgers and hotdogs are sold at the concession trailer, and visitors can toast marshmallows around a campfire.
In 2019 the Manchester Union Leader reported on the race—you can read it here. NHPR also covered the race, sounds and all, with a discussion of the risks global warming poses to the long-term future of the sport. Listen here.
Banner: Sled dogs on Chocorua Lake.