It was the 13th year of the Caledonia Classic Sled Dog Race in Fort St. James and there were more teams than ever.
With 42 teams participating, and 19 teams alone in the four dog sprint, it was great community support and participation, according to Craig Houghton, race marshal.
It was another successful Classic despite a couple of complications due to weather, at the only race in the country which brings together long-distance stage races, mid-distance races and sprints in one weekend.
Sandy Burke of Quesnel won the 150 mile stage race part of the weekend for his second time, taking home the $3,500 purse. Burke’s times were based on the first two stages of the race, for a total of only 100 miles of the 150 mile race, because Sunday’s snowstorm cancelled the final stage.
When mushers and race officials gathered for their pre-race meeting on Sunday, conditions on the lake were so bad you couldn’t see marker to marker, according to Houghton.
“With the white-out conditions and the storm it just wasn’t safe to have teams out there,” said Houghton.
But Burke won the first two stages handily in nine hours, 17 minutes and 55 seconds. The snowstorm also did more than cancel races on Sunday, it also caused one musher to become temporarily lost on the lake on Saturday.
Musher Michelle Hauser went off-course during a 10-mile sprint race when visibility went downhill fast as the storm initially blew in on Stuart Lake.
“She was a pretty smart lady, she realized there was no point in going anywhere,” said Craig Houghton. “She just stopped, bedded down with her dogs and just kind of waited.”
Otherwise she may have gone much further off course. Her delayed return was noticed by the race officials quickly, however, and snowmobilers went out on the lake and used GPSs to guide the musher back to Cottonwood Beach once they found her.
She was only on her own for about 40 minutes according to Houghton, who acknowledged the woman’s sense even though she was a fairly novice musher.
Other participating teams came from as far away as Alberta, Northwest Territories, Yukon Territories and other parts of B.C..
Houghton was the race marshal for his second year, and he missed being out on the sled, “There’s no doubt I’d rather be out on the runners,” he admitted.
But he appreciates how important the event is to the area.
“This is the highlight of my year, and to me, it’s more important that the event goes off well and is organized … than that I run in it,” said Houghton.
He did get to participate in the Politician’s Race on Saturday, running a sled with Mayor Sandra Harwood.
The pair switched about half way, after Houghton realized they had a strong lead and Mayor Harwood drove the sled in across the line for her victory over fellow politicians with the Regional District’s Tom Greenaway not far behind, Nak’azdli Chief Fred Sam third and Mackenzie Mayor Stephanie Killam with her musher Terry Houghton in fourth.
Another great news story at the event was Revelstoke musher Eric Marsden, who came all the way up from the Kootenay town to participate in some sprints and give thanks to the community.
All of Marsden’s dogs have come from Fort St. James mushers and it was local mushers who inspired him to get back into the sport after a hiatus.
Marsden runs Revelstoke Dogsled Adventures in Revelstoke and showed his appreciation by taking community members for dog sled rides by donation to raise money for the local humane society.
“The people of Fort St. James have been good to me,” said Marsden. “I figured I’d make a road trip up there to raise some booty.”
Marsden likes taking people out on the sled and thought it was a cool thing to be able to give community members a chance to try the sport that is such a big part of the area and give dog sledders a chance to show off another side of the sport “in the light of all this bad news in the dog sledding industry,” explained Marsden, referring to Whistler’s controversial dog sled deaths.
Four dog, four mile sprint
First: Ken Bernard
Second: Sam Perrino
Third: Dave Johnson
Fourth: Anne Douglas
Six dog, four mile sprint
First: Sam Perrino
Second: Robert Gallant
Third: Cory Hommy
Fourth: Danny Slavic
Ten dog, ten mile sprint
First: Dave Johnson
Second: Ken Bernard
Third: Sam Perrino
Fourth: Rob Peebles
Ten dog 150 mile stage race
First: Sandy Burke
Second: Warren Palfrey
Third: Jerry Bath
Fourth: Steve Mullen