FORT KENT — Nearly 50 sled dog teams ran through the wilds of northern Maine in snowy conditions Saturday at the start of the 21st annual Can-Am Crown Sled Dog Races, which includes an Iditarod qualifier that’s billed as the longest and highest-caliber race in the eastern United States.

Teams from as far as Minnesota, Michigan and Ontario were signed up for the three races, which began Saturday morning in Fort Kent at Maine’s northern border. Thirteen teams were racing in both the 60- and 250-mile races, and 23 participated in the 30-miler, race officials said.

About half of the mushers in the 30-mile run finished by early afternoon, said spokesman Beurmand Banville. The snow began falling at 5 a.m. and slowed down mushers, he said.

The 250-mile race, which is the Iditarod qualifier, can take more than two days to complete including mandatory layovers.

The clockwise route takes the mushers south from Fort Kent to Portage, where racers turn west toward the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. They then turn north toward the town of Allagash and then east through the woods and back to Fort Kent.

The 250-mile race has a purse of $20,000. The winner was expected to cross the finish line in Fort Kent on Monday morning or later.

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