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      2011 Sled Dog Races close with bittersweet banquet

      It was a bittersweet celebration to close the 2011 sled dog races.

      The UP 200 ended early Saturday night in Wetmore due to poor trail conditions from the warm temperatures, about 50 miles short of a Marquette finish.

      "That bothers me because that's not what we work for, but we're safe, so we just hope for the better next year," says Upper Peninsula Sled Dog President Pat Torreano.

      There were also fewer mushers this year; Pat Torreano attributed that to high gas prices and the current economic climate.

      The obstacles of this year's race highlighted a strength, the dedication of more than 1,000 volunteers. They made the early finish line something special in Wetmore.

      "They threw together just an awesome finish," says first place finisher Ryan Anderson. "I come down the hill and there's lights everywhere, and there's this big crowd of people as we come down and over that hill."

      First place winner and sportsmanship award winner Ryan Anderson said the decision to finish early was the right one. He described the trails between Marquette and Wetmore as 'suicidal.'

      "It was so uncontrollable out there, it was scary. It wasn't safe for the dogs, it wasn't fair to the dogs to run on those trails," Anderson said. "They get on a patch of ice and slip and fall, and they're dragged for five feet, and it hurts to watch something you love so much struggle like that and potentially risk getting hurt or killed for that matter."

      What about next year? Organizers say they'll consider changing the date of the race in hopes of better weather, but it could conflict with other scheduled races on the circuit.

      As mushers packed up and head for home Monday, organizers are already working on next years' race. They say it's a 365-day-a-year job.