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Mushing with dogs in the Pontiac

By Celina Ip

BRISTOL, QUEBEC –Athletes and dogs teamed up at the Pontiac Sled Dog and Skijoring Race to recreate the only method of winter travel that was possible a century ago.

 

Drawing 60 teams and mushers from across Canada, the United States, and as far away as France and Norway, the Pontiac International Sled Dog and Skijoring Race took place from Jan. 14 to 15 at Timberland Tours in Bristol, Quebec.

While it marked the seventh race of its namesake, it served as the first annual winter dog sled race.

“This winter race is the first of its kind, but we've been doing the dry-land race – which takes places in October – for seven years and it's one of the biggest in the world,” said event organizer and Timberland Tours owner Denis Rozon.

According to Rozon the race drew in a decent number of teams but a few had cancelled a few days prior due to the week’s freezing rain.

“In the middle of the week we had freezing rain and afterwards it made the track icy, so some cancelled because they were afraid of hurting the dogs,” said Rozon.

To relieve the participants of the icy terrain, the tracks were brushed, packed and groomed as best as possible.

The regular sled dog races featured four-dog, six-dog and eight-dog sprints along with a junior sprint for kids 12 to 15 years of age.

The teams raced down a length of track for which the mileage went along with the number of dogs – four miles for the four-dog, six miles for the six-dog and eight miles for the eight-dog team.

The tournament also included a one-and-two dog skijoring race which Rozon likened to a hybrid of dog sledding and cross-country skiing.

“The skijoring involves only one or two dogs that pull the racer on skis,” said Rozon. “It’s kind of like cross-country skiing in the Olympics and the athlete needs to be in really good shape.”

Before the buzzer sounded for each round, the teams of dogs tugged on their lines and yipped and howled as they impatiently waited for the race to begin.

Once the teams kicked into action and the mushers and dogs flew down the snowy terrain, dozens of spectators cheered them on from the sidelines.

26-year-old Luke Siertsema drove seven hours from Blyth, Ontario to participate in the weekend tournament.

Siertsema, who has been competing since he was 16 years old, developed a passion for dog sledding alongside his dad.

“My dad has been doing it for well over 20 years. He raced when I was a kid and that's how I fell in love with it, and bow we're both hooked,” said Siertsema. “Since I began 10 years ago, I’ve probably done about 60 races.

The dog sledder explained that he typically teams up with his dad for the races and that this was his first time competing solo.

“I’m a little more nervous just because there's more responsibility but I think I’ll get over it,” said Siertsema.

On both Saturday and Sunday, Siertsema competed in a four-dog race and two six-dog races during which he continuously switched off his 18 dogs so that each would only run once.

“Today (Saturday), I raced in the four-dog at 12:30, the six-dog at 1:30 and then as soon as I got back I switched them up and went to new dogs and raced again,” said Siertsema. “By switching them up, it gives them a break. Generally every dog will do only one competition per weekend, because they give so much of their passion and energy that you don’t want to wear them out.”

Despite being nervous about flying solo, Siertsema said that he was excited to be participating in the event and living out his lifelong passion of dog sledding.

“I love dogs and I love to be involved in competitions – so when I put those two together, this is what I get,” smiled Siertsema. “It's also a really Canadian sport and there's something special about it, because you build a bond with the dogs and you get to see them do what they love alongside you.”

To learn more about the Pontiac International Sled Dog and Skijoring Race and to view the tournament results, visit: http://pontiacsleddograce.ca/

cip@postmedia.com



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