Barks and howls replaced silver bells last weekend as almost 100 dogs raced Fort Providence’s Deh Gah Christmas Sled Dog Races.
Nineteen mushers participated in the event — a slight drop from last year’s high water mark that saw 31 mushers from across NWT, Alberta and British Columbia heel their dogs to the finish.
Cold weather and low snowfall also slowed overall times, according to organizer Susan Fleck, though neither dampened spirits as longtime racers enjoyed a strong weekend and received their awards from NWT MP Michael McLeod.
“The veterans had a good weekend,” Fleck said.
One of them was Pete Emile of Fort Smith, a longtime musher recently returning to competition after a significant absence dedicated to assisting other mushers. With just a few dogs, he steadily climbed the ranks over the past years. And this year, he won the six dog race on the 28th, marking a come back for the veteran racer.
Kale Beck, 14, meanwhile drove Anthony’s Beck’s dogs into third place finish in the six dog race. It was one of the first times he avoided falling off the sled, Fleck said, noting he surprised himself and nearly everyone else with a strong finish.
Don Cousins, who has raced for over 40 years, took first in the 12-dog race, which took place Dec. 28 and 29.
Fleck couldn’t remember the last time Cousins won a race over the last two decades, but said he enjoyed clean runs and sharp, young team leader that pressed the dogs to victory.
“He’s pretty excited about his year now,” Fleck said.
Finally, in the three-mile, three-dog race held Dec. 29, Melodie Cardona handily won with a time of 9:52:06.
While racers competed, Fort Providence volunteers were of huge assistance, Fleck said. The course crossed a local access road, so volunteers had to maintain a level of snow where the dog teams went across.
She said the local help made for smooth operations throughout the weekend, whether it was keeping time or maintaining tracks.
“They had never done it before and just did an amazing job,” she said. “Without those local people helping with the race, you can’t really race.”
As the sled dog racing season kicks off, Fleck said racers will have several opportunities in the coming months to compete and socialize.
“The long lonely hours of training are almost over and now mushers get to socialize,” she said. ”You really look forward to racing and seeing how your dogs are looking against other people’s dogs, and just exchange stories and talk about what you could have done to run the race.”