8th Annual Pigeon Lake Sled Dog Races
The Eighth Annual Pigeon Lake Sled Dog Races took place on Saturday, February 15th and Sunday, February 16th, 2014. The weather was ideal for spectators but a little too warm for the dogs as they prefer cooler weather to prevent over heating and a track that is firmer when the temperature is cooler.
The race is designed for all levels of abilities from first timers to those with extensive experience in the wilds of Alaska. This provides an excellent opportunity for new members to the sport to mingle and learn from the more experienced mushers. There is also a category for junior mushers.
Contestants came from Manitoba, British Columbia, Montana, and from all over Alberta. There were 40 different mushers registered in the seven different events.
Saturday, under a bright blue sky, the day began with the 4-mile Skijoring event. This is where an individual puts on cross-country skis and then hooks up with two dogs for a run over the trails. From that point on the events have contestants using the traditional dog sled pulled by four, six, or eight dogs. The four and six dog events are spilt into Open or Purebred divisions and run four miles while the eight-dog division is an open event and the distance is increased to six miles. There was also a junior event of two miles, where young mushers competed with one, two, or three dogs depending on the age and experience of the musher.
If you have never attended a sled dog race then you are missing watching a terrific sporting event. The dogs are all athletic and you can feel their excitement and energy as they prepare for their event. In many ways they are just like their human counterparts except they can be much more vocal about the excitement they are feeling.
The Classic followed the International Sled Dog Racing Association (ISDRA) Speed Race Rules. Their combined runs from Saturday and Sunday determined the winners. Total purse this year topped $7,000.00, but most mushers where here not for the purse, but for the comradely and the opportunity to share experiences.
This year the Pigeon Lake Sled Dog Classic added a charity to the event when they adopted Dogs with Wings. Dogs with Wings are a non-profit organization that provides service and guide dogs for people in need.
Four years ago the Classic was moved from the surface of Pigeon Lake to the farm of Hans Appelman. The Appelman Farm provides a more challenging course with its hills and dips than the flat surface of the lake. Since that time the Classic has grown to become the biggest sled dog race event in the province. The Appelmans are no strangers to sled dog racing having competed at the World Championships and are fully aware of the preparation needed to host a world class event. The community of Pigeon Lake and surrounding communities that included Wetaskiwin supports the event with a great team of volunteers that number over 70 individuals and strong sponsorship.
On Sunday there were a few more clouds and a little cooler temperature than on Saturday. This combined with the experience of running the trail on Saturday saw the running times reduced making for very competitive finals.
In the four mile Skijoring race Raja Easterbrook maintained her first place standing from Saturday defeating Ivar Appelman by a total of 50 seconds. Ken Bernard was able to hold off last year’s winner, Rob Ramsay from Manitoba, to take the 4-dog Open Sled Race over 4 miles. In the Pure bred class longtime musher Rachel Wannamaker of Didsbury easily took the title. Hinton’s Ken Bernard then held off Brooke Hartum in the 6-dog Open event and Dena Wannamaker edged his relative Rachel in the 6-dog Purebred division. In the 2-dog junior division Elle Hartum squeaked by her brother Noah by a total of a mere 3 seconds after two miles of mushing. In the 8-dog Open event retired Rob Peebles from Westlock increased his Saturday’s .5-second lead over Ken Bernard to 41 seconds on Sunday to take the title and the $465 purse for first place.
Other activities that were held over the weekend and were open to the public was a Saturday evening banquet and the hosting of two Calcutta’s for the 8-dog sled races with the proceeds going to the Dogs with Wings charity and the bidder of the winning sled.
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