Mushers compete in Dog Days of Winter this weekend
Ryan Summerlin February 17, 2014
Teams of barking dogs racing around corners as their mushers yell commands and wrestle the sled that is constantly trying to flip makes for quite the spectacle.
Residents and visitors of the Fraser Valley will get to have a front row seat to see this weekend.
The Grand Dog Days of Winter makes a return to Grand Park on Feb. 15 and 16 with sled dog races and skijoring contests and lessons over Presidents Day weekend.
The International Sled Dog Racing Association sanctioned races are sure to be a thrill to watch as these well-trained pooches and their mushers fight to claim a piece of the $2,500 purse for the event.
The races will include an eight-dog sled races, six-dog sled races, and four-dog sled races, as well as a three-dog junior race and a three- to four-dog Sportsman Class race.
The eight and six dog teams are by far some of the most entertaining to watch as the dogs come zooming by spectators on a mad dash to complete the course.
Spectators are always surprised by how loud the events get, said Janet Saxon, an organizer for the Grand Park event. “The dogs love it,” she said. “As soon as you get the harness out they are barking and leaping and wanting to go run.”
One of the coolest things to see while watching these races is the connection between the dogs and their handlers, Saxon said. “It’s cool to see how the dogs want to please their humans.”
The course on Grand Park property that the racers use every year is very well put together considering the available space and makes for excellent spectating due to the openness of the valley in the area, said Bruce Harper, an avid musher who works the event as a the trail boss, making sure the course is ready to go for the sled dog teams.
The course has a number of turns that test the dogs’ and mushers’ abilities as well as straits that allow for the teams to let loose and run at top speed. The course also sports some hill climbs that test the endurance of the dog teams.
“The coolest spot is on the south side of the course,” Harper said. The turn Harper is referring to is a tight turn that travels up a hill, making an off-camber section that is often hard for mushers to navigate with their sleds.
“We’ve had several people crash there,” Harper said.
Harper owns and operates a team of eight purebred Siberian huskies, called a purebred team. While Harper is proud of his team ad said he wouldn’t trade them for the world, Saxon said that some of the best teams are made up mixed breed dogs or mutts.
“A purebred team makes for a very pretty team,” Saxon said. “But not always the fastest team.”
Mushers are constantly trying to make the best dogs by breeding traits like the speed and smartness of a dog, she said.
Saxon is a skijorer and usually uses a team of two to three dogs, but she says you can use a single dog for the sport as well.
The event will also have a clinic for people who are interested in giving skijoring a try that will start sometime around noon or 1 p.m. on Saturday.
While Saxon will have some extra harnesses on hand, the skijoring clinic is BYOD, or bring your own dog, she said.
“Any dog can do it as long it likes to run,” she said.
The races, which are sponsored by the Winter Park-Fraser Chamber and Grand Park, will start at 9 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday and will continue into the early afternoon each day.
Reid Tulley can be reached at 970-887-3334