All four team types will be leaving from the Northern Recreation Centre, by Redwing School just north of Prince Albert at noon on Tuesday. Open ceremonies are at 11:30 a.m.
Teams will dig their paws into the crisp trail as they prepare for the long days ahead. The full distance teams will be covering more than 550 Kilometres of track in four to five days.
The mandatory mushers meeting was held at the Prince Albert Inn on Monday afternoon, followed by the traditional banquet.
All participating mushers and their handlers as well as some family members and volunteers were in attendance for the sobering talk about the dangers of the trail, the importance of safety – especially for the dogs – and the rules of the game.
The rules will be observed carefully but flexibly said this year’s marshals Dave Young (head marshal) and Dave Smallwood.
This is Young’s first year marshaling a race, but he has followed and respected the sport for years, he told the gathering. Smallwood has nearly 10 years of experience racing.
“What we are going to do is we are gonna run the race in the spirit of the rules. We will interpret them,” Young said.
More than once he said that the safety of the dogs comes first in all their decision-making. So saying he introduced them to the head veterinarian, Ruth Sims. Sims has been with the race for eight years and as head vet for five.
Young didn’t bone around regarding the difficulty they had making a trail this year or that weather conditions have been challenging with trail-makers having to snowshoe over large portions of the trail before they could even get a snowmobile on it.
Partly that is because of the heavy, sugary snow that the region has received this year as well as the winds during the summer and fall, which created a match-stick layer of obstacles for the trail-crew to find while packing the route.
“The fact remains, slush conditions this years are horrendous. They are,” Young said.
Dangers include freezing slush, water seeping over ice, deep snow that racers must contend with off trail as they find a place to camp, as well as the deadly Spider Holes, which are essentially spider-like cracks or weak spots on the ice.
Of course by tomorrow everything might be frozen with the drop in temperature.
“(The weather) can change in a heart beat. Be prepared,” he cautioned.
“You guys are out there playing with Mother Nature. That’s your sport, that’s your passion, so go play with her. But remember that if she wants to win, she will.” - Dave Young, head marshal
Brothers, Bart de Marie and Stefaan de Marie, are prepared. Both have run this race -- three and ten times respectively. Bart has also raced the Yukon Quest but this year is his brother’s handler.
Bart says that despite the difficulty, he always wants more.
“When I finish, it is like, ‘when can I do it again?, ” he said.
For him it as about getting away from his tech-centred work and back to the basics, where he can get some piece of mind. The real reward comes from watching his team revel in it.
“You look at the face of the dog and you see the satisfaction they get just from finishing the race,” he said.
It’s not for everyone though, you have to want it.
“You either have it or you don’t.”
The race comes with its dangers, but that isn’t stopping this year’s batch of mushers.
Young looked out at the room of mushers, handlers and volunteers.
“You guys are out there playing with Mother Nature. That’s your sport, that’s your passion, so go play with her. But remember that if she wants to win, she will.”