Dogsledding: fun for the whole family

Jodi Schellenberg
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Teams of sled dogs and their mushers braved the cold this weekend.

The Prince Albert Mushers’ Club held their 35th annual races event at the Crutwell Hall on Saturday and Sunday.

“This weekend, we like to have it so most of the teams around can try out their first dogs of the season and pick and choose which ones are going to run in different races,” race marshal Ken Roode said. “It is a starting out (race).”

Roode was not only the race marshal -- he is a director of the club and has been dogsledding himself for more than 15 years.

There were a lot of people out for the event, despite the temperature being -50 C with the wind chill.

“This weekend, we had 11 dog trucks,” Roode said. “Basically there are anywhere from three to four different teams coming out of one truck.”

A lot of the mushers take the races very seriously, he said.

“We have one team that comes from Meadow Lake country and they have both him and her running in the 10-dog race,” Roode said. “It is just like fishing or any other kind of a sport. It gets in their blood and they really love it.

The event on the weekend was to help the mushers try out their dogs in a race and see where the dogs fit in the team, Roode said. They pay out prizes down to sixth place.

“These are all timed events and they run according to what (size of team they have),” Roode said. “They are running up as high as 10 to 12 miles with the 10 dogs and as short as a quarter to half-mile with the one-dogs, with the little guys.”

The event on the weekend was a sprint race, which is different from a distance race. The dogs are breed for speed instead of endurance.

“The Alaskan husky is bred with hounds so they are faster dog but have more hair on them -- not the really long hair, but the shorter hair,” Roode said. “They go faster. This is a sprint race, where these dogs go off at 25 to 30 miles an hour for up to six to 10 miles.

“The ones that go to La Ronge, they are distance dogs,” he added. “They are trained different and they run off on a lope all day at 10 miles an hour. There is a lot of difference between the two dogs. These sprint dogs you can’t keep up to them. If you fall off, you walk.”

The cold was a bit of a hindrance for the races though, Roode admitted.

“It would be nice if it would warm up a little -- if we were having it next weekend, it is supposed to be -5 C,” he said. “There was one year that we had a race down in Wanuskewin, which we sponsored a race down there, and it was -62 C with the wind chill. They are wrapped up as much as they could but we had to cancel to one race because it was just too cold.”

The club, which has been around for 35 years, doesn’t just hold events in the Prince Albert area.

“Over the years we have had dog races all over the country from La Ronge to Wanuskewin and Hudson Bay to around Lloydminster -- we have been all over the place,” Roode said.

The event is not just for serious mushers -- it is a family event as well.

“This is a family sport we are having out here,” Roode said. “We have everyone from the little guys -- (there is) a little guy who ran in the one-dog race -- all the way up to the oldest guy here who is probably reaching 60. It is for both genders as well.

“It is really a family-oriented thing and (the people involved) are like a family after a while, where you get to meet the same people again next year and see how they are doing and everything,” he added.

All those who were participating in the event were enjoying the time out on the sleighs with their dogs.

“Even with the cold, they still enjoy it, even as cold as it is,” Roode said. “We just had six teams going out in the six-dog, so 36 dogs just left. Then we will have 10-dog coming out at 3 p.m. and there are the same amount of teams, which is 60 dogs.”

The mushers train their dogs all year round, even when there isn’t snow.

“In the summertime, they run them with quads out in the bush and then once they get enough snow they can run them with the sleighs,” Roode said.

Although there are so many dogs at the event, they are all well trained, he said.

“You train them and they will listen after a while,” Roode smiled.

Roode loves dogsledding but is not competitive.

“I only mushed one race and I came in dead last,” Roode laughed. “I am not competitive but I have been with the association 15 to 20 years.

“It is always fun,” he added. “I run the dogs out in the bush and there is no comparison to anything. It is so peaceful and quiet out there, all you hear is the little scampering of their feet and the squeaking f the sleigh. It is beautiful.”

He was also thankful for the support they received not only from the Crutwell community, but also from their major sponsor Northern Lights Development.

“I hope they do it again next year,” Roode said.

They usually have their first event of the year in Crutwell on the first weekend in January, Roode said. Their next event will take place at the winter festival during the school break in February.

Organizations: Prince Albert, Northern Lights Development

Geographic location: La Ronge, Meadow Lake, Hudson Bay Lloydminster Crutwell

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