Dog sled teams launch from downtown Prince Albert

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Tyler Clarke
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Published on February 18, 2014

A sled dog chills out on Central Avenue in the lead-up to his participation in the 2014 Canadian Challenge Sled Dog Race on Tuesday

Published on February 18, 2014

Race marshal Dave Smallwood helps check participants in the 2014 Canadian Challenge Sled Dog Race to make sure they have all the necessary safety gear on-hand. 

Published on February 18, 2014

Handler Kevin Donald puts Porcupine Plain musher Anna Bolvin’s eight-dog team into harnesses on Tuesday. 

Published on February 18, 2014

Anna Bolvin’s lead dog from last year, Penny, is seen in her truck prior to Tuesday’s kickoff to the 2014 Canadian Challenge Sled Dog Race. Penny was recently diagnosed with cancer so was unable to participate in this year’s event, but Bolvin wanted to make sure she could still see what all the fuss was about. Penny will join handler Kevin Donald for the drive up to various check stops along the 320-kilometre eight-dog track. 

Published on February 18, 2014

Prince Albert youngster Peyton Yakubchuk, 4, wishes her favourite dog good luck on the 2014 Canadian Challenge Sled Dog Race. 

Published on February 18, 2014

A dog hangs out under a truck before Tuesday’s grand start. 

Published on February 18, 2014

Dogs rest up before the 2014 Canadian Challenge Sled Dog Race began on Tuesday in downtown Prince Albert

Published on February 18, 2014

Logan Lake, B.C., musher Megan Routley’s 12-dog team begin their 520-kilometre northbound journey on Tuesday. 

Published on February 18, 2014

Pierceland musher Gerry Walker’s 12-dog team launch from Central Avenue in downtown Prince Albert on Tuesday. 

Published on February 18, 2014

Pierceland’s Gerry Walker looks forward at his dogs as they begin the 12-dog 2014 Canadian Challenge Sled Dog Race on Tuesday. 

Published on February 18, 2014

Christopher Lake musher Bart de Marie looks forward at his 12-dog sled dog team after launching in downtown Prince Albert on Tuesday. Half of his team were members of his brother Stefaan de Marie’s team last year, which won last year’s 2014 Canadian Challenge Sled Dog Race. 

Published on February 18, 2014

Mayor Greg Dionne waves the flag for sled dog teams to start in downtown Prince Albert on Tuesday. 

Published on February 18, 2014

Didsbury, Alta., musher Rick Wannamaker begins the 12-dog challenge at the 2014 Canadian Challenge Sled Dog Race on Tuesday. 

Published on February 18, 2014

Dogs begin their northbound journey from downtown Prince Albert on Tuesday. 

Published on February 18, 2014

Linden, Alta., musher Christopher Wall begins the eight-dog race from downtown Prince Albert for the 2014 Canadian Challenge Sled Dog Race. 

Published on February 18, 2014

Shellbrook musher Luke Naber begins a 320-kilometre eight-dog race from downtown Prince Albert on Tuesday. 

Published on February 18, 2014

Porcupine Plain’s Isabelle Knudsen launches her eight-dog team from downtown Prince Albert on Tuesday. 

Published on February 18, 2014

Musher Isabelle Knudsen, from Porcupine Plain, smiles at the crowd while launching her eight-dog team from downtown Prince Albert on Tuesday. 

Published on February 18, 2014

Vilvoorde, Belgium, musher Stijn Bouckenooghe, waves to the crowd that gathered in downtown Prince Albert on Tuesday to see the kick-off to the 2014 Canadian Challenge Sled Dog Race. Bouckenooghe, joined by handler Earl Stobbe, raced in the 120-kilometre six-dog open race. 

Published on February 18, 2014

La Ronge Sid Robinson launches his 12-dog team from downtown Prince Albert on Tuesday. 

Enthusiastically yipping and jumping, it took teams of people to hold back excitable dogs from prematurely starting their northbound journeys on Tuesday.

 

Launching from downtown Prince Albert on Tuesday, the 2014 Canadian Challenge Sled Dog Race saw hundreds of people gather to cheer on 17 sled dog teams.

Click HERE for more photos from Tuesday's sled dog launch.

Click HERE for a short video Daily Herald publisher John Morash took of the dog launch.

Looking over his 12-dog team before they began their 520-kilometre trip, Christopher Lake handler Stefaan de Marie said that he anticipates a “very neat race.”

“We have a lot of top competitors, here. It will be really cool to see what everyone is going to do.”

De Marie won last year’s 12-dog challenge.

About half of last year’s winning team have reconvened to pull de Marie’s brother, Bart, at this year’s event.

“We’re just switching positions, so I’m handling now and he’s doing the driving,” de Marie summarized.

While the team left last year’s event with the top prize, this year’s challenge might be more challenging, de Marie said, adding that this year’s training season wasn’t as good as last year’s.

“With the big amount of snow, a lot of our trails got blocked and being cold it was hard to put the proper training in, but everyone has their problems with training so we’re going to make the best out of it.”

On top of that, de Marie said that this week’s warmer than usual temperatures might pose a challenge to local area dogs, who are more used to racing in colder weather.

Western teams might fare better because they’re used to training in warmer temperatures, he surmised.

“It is warm, but it’s beautiful as well,” Sarah de Brion said before Tuesday’s grand start. “You can’t have too much of the sunshine.”

Handling for Red Deer, Alta., musher Jillian Lawton, de Brion said that this year’s event is all about having fun for the team.

“We’ve not done as much training this year as we did last year, so we dropped down from the 12 to the eight (dog race), so we really just want to enjoy it this year and have a good time,” she said.

The eight-dog teams will race for 320 kilometres while this year’s two six-dog open race teams race a 120-kilometre track.

“It’s still a long way,” de Brion said. “It’s still a hard race, but because the dogs don’t have as many training miles on them we’re more likely to finish (in the shorter race).”

Porcupine Plain musher Anna Bolvin’s eight-dog team has no lack of training miles, building up 1,000 miles of practice since they began training in September.

We have a lot of top competitors, here. It will be really cool to see what everyone is going to do. Stefaan de Marie

Pulling dog team members out of their portable kennels on Tuesday, Bolvin’s team handler Kevin Donald strapped them into harnesses and made sure to lay a smooch on the top of their heads before they embarked on their 320-kilometre trip.

“We’re doing pretty good,” he said. “We’ve got two (team members) who were on the challenge last year and the rest are newbies.”

This year’s warmer temperatures come as a nice contrast to last year’s frigid conditions, Bolvin said, noting that as long as temperatures stay below freezing the dog teams shouldn’t overheat.

“It was very cold, but otherwise it was good,” she said of last year’s event. “I did OK, except my dogs quit on Lac La Ronge about six miles from the finish line. This year we’re going to see if we can do it all the way.”

A dog team deciding to call it quits is always a risk, she said, noting that the dogs are ultimately the ones who call the shots.

“They were just tired, I think, and coming out on the big lake I think it was a bit intimidating to them,” she said.

Bolvin approaches this year’s race with a good luck charm, with last year’s lead dog, Penny, riding in the truck with Donald to the various check stops.

Recently diagnosed with cancer, Penny’s role at this year’s race is “guardian angel,” Bolvin said, adding that she’s “a super dog.”

“She looked after me for eight years, and now I guess I’ll look after her,” she said, reaching into the back seat to rub Penny’s head. “Right, girl?”

Although crowds saw dogs enthusiastically embark on their northern journeys on Tuesday, dogs and mushers will face unique challenges throughout the balance of the week during their 120 to 520-kilometre routes.

Veterinarians check dogs at various checkstops along the way and pull dogs from the race if they find injuries.

Click HERE for a story about the veterinarian check participating dogs participated in on Monday. 

Handlers massage dogs at check stops, where dogs are also fed and given water.  

Should problems arise along the track, mushers are required to have the supplies needed to get them out of tricky situations -- their loads checked by race marshals prior to departure.

Check the Daily Herald website and print edition throughout the week for updates on the 2014 Canadian Challenge Sled Dog Race.  

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Recent comments

  • Frances Baxter
    February 20, 2014 - 17:04

    Coming from Ontario I have never seen a dog sled team or race . I'd like to say thank you to all the teams I met in La Ronge . I was very grateful they took the time to talk with me and let me see their dogs. Although I didn't manage to see any one come in or go out.I was privilege to talk with some team members during my work day. Next year I'm taking the day off so I can send video back to the family and friends I have in Ontario all the members that I met in La Ronge was willing to educate me on the sport of dog sledding . And was willing to have there pic taken They made my first experience with this sport I will remember. And will be better prepared for next year with my video camera Thank you all and safe journey. See you next year. P.s special thanks to team 53 and 7 and our very own local trams as well Great people.