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For outdoors enthusiasts, it's a winter of discontent

Low snowfall spoiling traditional pasttimes

CHICAGO -- The snowshoes are in the closet, ice fishermen are lingering at the sides of slushy lakes, and at least one snow-sculpting event was literally a washout.

Unseasonably warm weather and a lack of snow in parts of the country usually covered in white at this time of year have wreaked havoc with winter recreation events.

Temperatures as high as 50 degrees around Chicago -- where in January it is usually closer to 30 -- forced the postponement of Fran Volz's popular Snow Visions sculpting contest in suburban Schaumburg this coming weekend. He rescheduled for Feb. 11.

''When we were shooting the snow gun, all that came down was water," Volz said. ''We just had water all over the parking lot."

Organizers of the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race in Alaska and Canada may have to send the race participants on a detour or give them a lift by truck for the third time in the event's 23-year history.

''There's definitely not as much snow as we would like for the race," said media coordinator Jennifer Gavin. The 1,000-mile race runs from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Whitehorse, Yukon.

The weather is also putting a damper on winter sports in the Northern Plains, where temperatures have been 15 to 20 degrees above normal for at least the past two weeks.

''The fishermen are all bummed out," said Steve Crandall, manager at Turtle River State Park in Arvilla, N.D. Ice fishermen have not been able to drive their trucks on the ice safely or build ice houses.

The cold season got off to a robust start, but because of the warm weather lately, the snow hasn't stuck around.

Forecasters are not expecting conditions to change any time soon.

But despite the lack of snow for sledding and skiing, Crandall said his North Dakota park is seeing more people than usual, drawn by the relatively balmy weather.

''Low 20s, early 30s feels pretty darn good when the sun's shining," Crandall said.

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