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Too little snow moves Beargrease sled dog race start farther north

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It's been plenty cold, but there's not enough snow on the ground for the annual John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon to begin at its usual starting line in Duluth. Organizers of the race announced Sunday they're planning to start the race on its scheduled date, Jan. 25, but farther north.

"The Race is ON! We are happy to announce the race will start on January 25th as planned! Location and time of start to be announced later this week. Marathon race will finish at Billy's!"

At 374 miles, the Beargrease is the longest sled dog race in the lower 48 states, and it usually runs on trails along the North Shore, from Duluth to Grand Portage and back.

But since there's not enough snow in Duluth, and not much is expected in the next two weeks, the event’s board of directors decided Sunday afternoon to begin the race at one of the first two checkpoints, the Duluth News Tribune reports.

It will start either at the checkpoint north of Two Harbors off Lake County Road 2, or in Finland, which is the next checkpoint to the north, according to the Tribune.

The board is considering both locations and will announce later this week which is best suited for the start, according to the news release.

Jason Vincent, the event’s media director, said several factors besides the snow cover will be taken into consideration, including how much space will be available for race fans as well as the media, according to the Tribune.

Vincent told the News Tribune last week that snow conditions from Two Harbors to the north are very good for the race.

Having to eliminate the leg of the race between Duluth and Two Harbors is a bit of a blow for the event, since that stretch is usually one of the most popular places for spectators to watch the competitors.

The weather has required the Beargrease to change plans a few times in recent years. In 2013, the race was delayed until March, and it was canceled altogether in 2012 because of a lack of snowfall.

About the Beargrease

The John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon began in 1980, and attracts world-class mushers each year as a warmup for the Iditarod dog race in Alaska.

The mushers compete against each other, but also battle the extremes of northern Minnesota weather and the rugged terrain of the trail, which goes through the Sawtooth Mountains along the North Shore.

The race is named in honor of John Beargrease, an Anishinabe who lived in northeastern Minnesota in the late 1800s. For almost 20 years, between 1879 and 1899, Beargrease and his brothers delivered the mail between Two Harbors and Grand Marais.

They used a variety of methods depending on the season, but John Beargrease was best known for traveling the route by dogsled. The annual sled dog marathon takes nearly the same path he did.

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