Mushers will be arriving at the 108 Mile Heritage Site in droves as the Cariboo Challenge sled dog races run this weekend from Jan. 10-12.

Mushers will be arriving at the 108 Mile Heritage Site in droves as the Cariboo Challenge sled dog races run this weekend from Jan. 10-12.

Cariboo Challenge sled dog races run this weekend

Dozens of mushers are preparing for the upcoming sled dog races this weekend at the 108 Mile Heritage Site.

Dozens of mushers are preparing for the upcoming sled dog races south of Williams Lake, and among them is Richard Wannamaker from Didsbury, Alta.

It will be Richard’s first time competing in the Cariboo Challenge at the 108 Mile Heritage Site, which goes Jan. 10-12 and for the 21st time.

He won the Canadian Challenge International Sled Dog Race, a close to 600-kilometre race held in central Saskatchewan, in 2007 and 2008 with a 12-dog team. It’s Canada’s longest sled dog race that starts, runs and finishes in the country.

It’s quite an event to compete in, let alone win and survive, Richard says.

“The first year I won, it was -46 C and with a wind chill it was -58 C. It kind of makes you wonder sometimes what you’re really doing.

“It’s pretty exciting if you can keep your wits about you and the dogs healthy.”

The team averaged close to 135 miles a day over three-and-a-half days running through historic freight trails south from Prince Albert and up north past La Ronge.

The dogs are like a gas gauge, he explains.

“The dogs look after you. If they’re well-fed and well-watered, and don’t have any injuries and you keep them warm and happy, they do pretty darn good.”

Richard and his wife, Dena, attempted but didn’t complete, the Canadian Challenge in 2012.

He talks about his struggle with cancer and having to sell his long-distance dog team. Richard adds some dogs from his former team did the Iditarod — the most renowned and competitive sled dog race, which runs annually from Anchorage to Nome in Alaska.

Now that he is in recovery and starting to feel better, the Wannamakers have started training and racing sprint dogs again. Richard says he thinks he’s going to do the Canadian Challenge this year in February.

Although it’s a much different type of race, Richard says he’s also looking forward to racing at the Cariboo Challenge, which includes four-, six- and 10-dog teams, as well as skijoring and two-dog junior categories.

Richard has entered the four-dog and six-dog categories along with Dena, and their daughter, Rachel.

“Sprinting is fun. It’s all over in a few minutes. I’m a blessed man the good Lord is letting me do this again.”

Meanwhile in Williams Lake, local skijorer Jen Clark is preparing to make the trek south for the races.

A relative newcomer to the sport, Clark says the activity is accessible and, simply, a lot of fun.

“I’ve just been doing this for a few years,” she says. “I had one dog in the race last year and this year I’m bringing two [labs].”

Skijoring differs from sled dog racing by replacing the sled with skis. The dog or dogs then pull the person, instead of a sled.

Clark says she discovered the sport when her son was a toddler.

“I liked being outside and I had a toddler who, at two years old, couldn’t go too far,” she says. “I thought I’d hook my dog up to a sled, so I got a sled harness, and in the process of doing that I kind of came across dog sledding and skijoring.

“It’s great because any regular person can get into it. You don’t need the sled dogs and you can do it with any number of dogs. People do it with border collies, poodles, whatever.”

Cariboo Challenge organizer Len Doucette said mushers and skijorers can expect phenomenal conditions at this year’s races.

“We have amazing conditions,” Doucette said.  “The snow conditions are the best that we’ve had. Plowing out the parking lot this year was a huge chore because there’s so much snow.”

At the event an art contest for children and youth is slated for Jan. 11.

The theme is “sled dogs and winter in the Cariboo.”

For submission, children and youth can bring art work — such as paintings, carvings and sculptures — with their names and addresses on it to the 108 Heritage Site, no later than 2 p.m., on Jan. 11.

“The kids can be really creative,” explains organizer Ulli Vogler.

“Whatever they like to do, they can carve something, do something out of soapstone, they can build something, they can paint. Whatever comes to their mind, it’s their artwork.”

The awards ceremony for artists will be held at around 2:30 p.m.

Judging is based on three different age groups — three to six, seven to 12 and 12 to 18.

– With files from Gaven Crites and the 100 Mile House Free Press


Williams Lake Tribune