Jim Bauch remembers when he and Jeremy Gebauer decided to cancel the 2009 Seeley Lake Sled Dog Races. They were sitting in a café on a January morning, watching rain fall past the window. Snow on the ground turned to slush. Bauch nearly cried.
“I’m still demoralized by it,” he says.
The cancellation of the planned Jan. 9 race dealt a major economic blow to communities along the race route, but Bauch sees two silver linings. He and Gebauer convinced organizers with Lincoln’s Race to the Sky, which begins February 14, to add a 200-mile race for displaced Seeley contestants. And support for the cancellation from sponsors and mushers has been overwhelming.
“There hasn’t been a single musher who’s complained,” Bauch says.
Bauch and Gebauer began gathering sponsors from Missoula, Helena, Kalispell, Lincoln and Seeley last June. In December, they set to the race route with snowmobiles and groomers. Bauch estimates they spent $12,000 before canceling.
“It was probably the most disappointing thing I’ve ever been involved with,” Bauch says.
On top of avalanche danger on Huckleberry Pass, trail conditions were so poor the likelihood of a dog breaking a leg or shoulder was high.
This marks only the third race cancellation in nearly 20 years.
Bauch refunded entry fees to approximately 20 mushers already registered, though some refused the offer. Several businesses that provided sponsorship money up front told Bauch to consider it a “donation,” a noble gesture considering the seasonal business lost by the cancellation. The race typically brings in hundreds of spectators, plus contestants. But Joanne Nicolai, owner of Lambkins Lounge and Casino, agrees with the decision.
“You shouldn’t put anyone’s life before a dollar,” she says.
Rich Porterfield planned to host a cookout at the Hotel Lincoln, which he bought last September and refurbished. He purchased food and arranged volunteers prior to Bauch’s bad news.
“The race was going to be a benefit to us and that benefit didn’t come through,” Porterfield says. “But it’s understandable. You can’t control Mother Nature.”