Canadian Challenge sled dog race ready to go

Jason Kerr
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Prince Albert residents might not be happy with the cold weather, but the Canadian Challenge International Sled Dog Race organizers will be.

The cold weather has finally allowed them to start the race from downtown Prince Albert, which is something they’d planned on doing the last two years but had to shift north of the river due to warm weather.

“It’s beautiful.  It’s always nice to see the dogs downtown and have the people come out,” says Gill Gracie, the president of the Gateway North Sled Dog Race Association.

Gracie’s organization oversees the race, which starts on Feb. 17.  She says they’re fully prepared for the race and the turnout of fans and sled teams.

“We never have as many (teams) as we want, but we have 17, which is pretty good,” she says.

However it isn’t perfect.  Gracie says heavy snowfall levels in the north made it impossible for crews to create a trail north of La Ronge, meaning the teams in the 12-dog race will have to turn around and race back to Prince Albert.

“There’s a couple of feet of slush in a lot of locations,” she says.  “We just couldn’t pack a trail.”

The problems in the north are small ones however, and Gracie says she’s just happy they can start on Central Ave.  Business owners in the downtown area are also excited by the prospect, although they’re cautious too.

“It’s pretty tough to get businesses interested because it was cancelled (last year),” Prince Albert Downtown Improvement District Association president Bob Gill says.  “We’d like to have more businesses involved.  It’s something we’ve talked about.”

Normally businesses opened their doors to race watchers, offering them hot chocolate and a place to warm up.  Gill says there were too many logistical problems created when the race was forced to move.

“I think it’s just the planning and the extra staff,” Gill says, noting the extra cost businesses absorbed bringing in staff for a perceived rush that never came.

Despite this apprehension, Gill says they’re pleased to have the race back downtown.

“I think this year we’ll have a good turnout,” he says.  “People are excited because it’s been cancelled the past few years.”

The race festivities start on Feb. 17 with the vet inspection at the Exhibition Grounds.  There will then be a mushers banquet that night before the race starts at noon the next day.  Race teams have to complete the circuit by Feb. 22.  The Canadian Challenge is in its 17th year.

Organizations: Prince Albert, Gateway North Sled Dog Race Association, Prince Albert Downtown Improvement District Association Canadian Challenge

Geographic location: La Ronge

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