“Our big challenge this year is with the trail because of so much snow and so much blow down from winds last fall,” Gracie said. “And because there’s so much snow, there’s a lot of slush on the lake, so the trail crews are having quite a hard time.”
Organizers had feared that there wouldn’t be enough snow before last year’s event. This year, it seems there is too much snow, according to Gracie.
“(The crews are) out there working their butts off trying to get a trail ready,” she said. “We’ve got crews in the north end and crews at the south end, and they’re going out with snowmobiles and drags and trying to get a base built so that the dogs don’t punch through and so that it can freeze a little.”
There are currently 17 entrants registered for the race, which is to start in the Prince Albert area on Feb. 19 and end in La Ronge on Feb. 23.
“Because the river ice isn’t looking good this year, we may not be able to start in downtown P.A. In that case, we’ll start where we did last year, which is north by the Rec. Complex by Red Wing School,” Gracie said.
The decision as to where the event will be held will be made over the weekend.
Fundraising to hold the event began last summer, with the intention to have about $50,000 cash.
“I don’t think we’re quite there, but we’ll manage. And then we get a lot of in-kind contributions too -- people donating time, equipment or items. We have a silent auction along with our banquet. That helps to raise a little bit of money,” Gracie said, noting that the total budget is about $100,000.
The Canadian Challenge Sled Dog Race comprises four different races, including 12-dog, eight-dog, junior and open races, each with varying distances.
“We have our flagship 12-dog race,” Gracie said. “That’s the longest one. It goes approximately 500 kms from Prince Albert to La Ronge to Grandmother’s Bay, to Stanley Mission and then back to La Ronge.”
New this year, participants will be tracked by GPS.
“They’ll be able to do live-tracking online of where everybody is, which going to save us a lot of heartache, because if somebody’s a bit late you’ll (usually) wonder if something’s wrong or they’re just resting,” Gracie said.
The event is also an official Iditarod and Yukon Quest qualifier. Mushers who want to participate as qualifiers need to declare so by Monday.
“As a qualifier, it means they can’t have any contact with their handlers through the whole race, so they have to carry everything they need -- from straw, to dog food, to their food, to emergency equipment, to everything else,” Gracie said. “They have to camp separate from everybody else.”
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