It was a harsh wind blowing from the north on the first Saturday of this year’s Caledonia Classic Sled Dog races Mar. 1.
But mushers and volunteers alike braved the wind to enjoy the sunshine and action on Stuart Lake at Cottonwood Park.
It was the beginning of Winterfest as well, with a barbecue, fires, a sugar shack manned by hearty Integris Credit Union employees, snow sculpting done by Aaron Grant of Nanaimo and warm and cold beverages as a fundraiser for Music on the Mountain. There was also a public art project, by Fraser Lake painter Claire Singleton which many young artists contributed to by drawing dog teams, northern lights or other additions to a winter landscape of Stuart Lake viewed from Fort St. James.
The racers had to brave the cold, but were lucky enough to have blue skies and great visibility, though the overnight at Whitefish Bay for the stage racers would have required good gear in -30 C temperatures.
The teams left at 6 a.m. Saturday, instead of their usual 9 a.m. start, due to the cold and running low on firewood.
Terry Houghton was one of the volunteers who manned the camp at Whitefish Bay, and had tents set up to protect the mushers, but it would still not have been for the faint of heart, though mostmushers are used to these types of conditions.
It was also a great turnout for the Politician’s Race, which included local MLA for Nechako Lakes, Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation John Rustad, Minister of State for Tourism and Small Business Naomi Yamamoto, MLA for Prince George-Mackenzie Mike Morris, Mackenzie Councillor Pat Crook, Fort St. James Mayor Rob Macdougall and Nak’azdli Councillor Wayne Sam. Sam won the race handily, and there were a few spills, but the politicians did a great job holding on to their borrowed sleds.
The snowmobilers who helped with the race were also subject to extreme temperatures at high speeds, but generous volunteers from the Fort St. James Snowmobile Club came through once again to help make the event a success.