Cariboo Challenge sled dog race forced to cancel

Due to a lack of snow in some parts of the province and a lack of registrants, this year's Cariboo Challenge has been cancelled.

Warmer than normal weather across Western Canada and the resulting lack of snow has caused the cancellation of several major sled dog races, and the local Cariboo Challenge Jack Gawthorn Memorial Sled Dog Race has been caught in the ripple effect.

It was slated to run Jan. 13-15 at 108 Mile House, and while there is sufficient snow to stage the event, a lack of registrants has forced organizers to call it off.

The races were originally going to be held at the 108 Heritage Site, but in early January, snow cover proved to be inadequate and plans were set in motion to move the event to The Hills Health Ranch property, where snow was plentiful and trails were well groomed.

The decision to cancel the event came on Jan. 7, one week prior to the race, and Cariboo Challenge Sled Dog Society chair Len Doucette says it was a tough call to make.

“It was cancelled solely on the lack of registration. It was down this year partly because of snow conditions in Western Canada, which made mushers unable to get their dogs trained.

“Without registration, we cannot run a race.”

He explains the cancellation of other races put holes in the circuit, potentially making it uneconomical for mushers to travel any great distance to participate in the Cariboo Challenge.

Society treasurer Uli Vogler notes they had only nine teams registered for the Cariboo Challenge and a disproportionately large prize purse of $6,000.

“We did so much fundraising and feel it’s not right to ask for this kind of community support and then spend the money on eight or nine racers. It’s sad after all of the work we’ve put in, but it’s just not the right thing to do.”

Musher Craig Conklin of 70 Mile House had been planning on running his six-dog team of Siberian huskies at the Cariboo Challenge and his wife, Pam Barker, was to compete in the four-dog race.

He says a lack of snow had kept him and his dogs from training properly until just recently. This season, he wasn’t able to run them with the sled until Dec. 27 in Quesnel, at a warm-up event for the annual Gold Rush Trail Dog Sled Mail Run, which is scheduled to take place Jan. 20-22 just north of that city.

“I’m so bummed,” says Conklin about the cancellation, adding that he also feels sorry for his sled dogs. “They love to run and it’s a whole different feel for them at a race. They love it.”

Doucette says the society is moving ahead with plans for the 2013 event during which they intend to broaden the participation pool by adding mid-distance races.