A musher and his dogs dash through the start line on Feb. 22 at the 2013 Canadian Challenge in Prince Albert. Herald file photo
Thanks to an early snowfall, dogs and mushers participating in the 2014 Canadian Challenge Sled Dog race can get to training earlier than expected.
Bernie Zintel, treasurer for the 17th annual race, said the event already had five teams registered before the end of November, a rarity he attributed to this season’s early appearance of snow in the region.
“Having those entries in before the end of November is a pretty big thing for us,” Zintel said. “Mostly you don’t get entries in until December.”
The race, set for Feb. 17-22, will feature 12-dog, eight-dog and junior races. The 520-km 12-dog event will see teams race from Prince Albert all the way up to Grandmother’s Bay before making their way back to La Ronge to cross the finish line.
“It’s a challenge,” Zintel said of the event, which acts as a qualifier for both the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod. “The dogs will need a lot of training. A lot of the mushers are doing 30 to 40 km a day training on their dogs to make sure they can take the run.”
The mushers too must go through a heavy training regiment as well, Zintel said.
“They have to be in a pretty good physical condition to stand on the sleigh behind the dogs,” he said. “They have to be in control of their dogs at all times.
Zintel said the early registrations for the event are a good indicator of where the sport of sled dog racing is heading.
“Dog racing is at an all-time high,” he said. “We are moving up, more people are hearing about the event and more people want to run the race.”
Zintel said the race’s starting line is planned for right in front of Prince Albert City Hall on Central Avenue, where it has been for many years.
“It is setup that way for now, with ice conditions it’ll be just great,” he said, adding his enthusiasm for Prince Albert hosting the event.
“It’s a special event we started 17 years ago to enhance dog racing,” he said. “It means a lot of people coming from all over the place to visit our great city.”
Event organizers are currently on the hunt for volunteers to help at the start line and at race checkpoints. Those interested in volunteering can check out the event’s website at www.canadianchallenge.com.