John Beargrease president discusses challenging decision to cancel annual sled dog race
Kalli Hawkins
Outdoor News

John Beargrease president discusses challenging decision to cancel annual sled dog race

As the 2024 winter season unfolds in northern Minnesota, many organizers of annual winter events, including the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon, find themselves facing a difficult decision.

Less than four weeks before the anticipated annual John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon started, the board of directors made the tough call to cancel the event due to a lack of snow.

“The decision was made to just go with the cancellation this year,” said Mike Keyport, board of director’s president. “So a little heartbreaking for me.”

The board of directors had been meeting every two weeks leading up to the Jan. 28 event to discuss planning and operations and continue conversations regarding the lack of snow along the North Shore.

Keyport said two weeks ago, the board of directors chose a postponement date of Mar. 3. However, on Jan. 2, the decision was made to cancel the race rather than postpone due to concerns about winter conditions in March and how that would impact the sled dog’s safety. He said that it’s typical to encounter warmer temperatures in March, creating less-than-ideal snow conditions. “Slushy snow, that’s hard on dogs.”

The 2024 John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon was supposed to be the 40th anniversary of the North Shore event. However, Keyport said postponing the event would give the organizers an additional year to “really step up our game and make next year’s race better than ever.”

If the race had been postponed to Mar. 3 rather than canceled, Keyport said four to five teams would not have participated due to the conflict with the Iditarod. The Iditarod race begins on Mar. 2.

Following the official news of the cancellation, Ryan Redington, who won the 2023 Iditarod, departed for Alaska on Jan. 2 in search of snow and to prepare for the Iditarod race. Redington is well known in the mushing scene. He is a two-time champion of the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon.

Unfortunately, Keyport said the board of directors received a report from Redington as he traveled through Canada, and he has yet to find any snow. “He’s halfway up there as of yesterday midday and hasn’t run into snow in going through Canada yet.”

Following the John Beargrease cancelation news, several other Midwest sled dog races have followed suit. On Jan. 3, the Lake Minnetonka Klondike Dog Derby canceled its event. Yesterday, the Tahquamenon Country Sled Dog Race in Michigan also canceled its upcoming racing event. The Gunflint Mail Run, initially scheduled for Jan. 6, has postponed the annual event to Feb. 10.

WTIP’s Kalli Hawkins spoke with Mike Keyport, the John Beargrease Sled Dog Race president, about the decision to cancel the race. Audio from the interview is below.