On February 17, 2020, dog mushers met in Prince Albert in preparation for the annual Canadian Challenge Sled Dog Race.
Teams would then leave the start chute at 2-minute intervals and head south to do an initial stage that would take them on a trail that went south past Anglin Lake and then looped back to Elkridge. Teams in the 6-dog, 70-km race would finish when they got back to Elkridge. Teams in the 8-dog, 275-km race would continue on north to finish in La Ronge. And, finally, teams in the main 12-dog, 500-km race would continue on past La Ronge to Grandmother’s Bay and Stanley Mission before returning from the north to finish in La Ronge.
The morning of February 18, saw 13 mushers hooking up their teams at Elkridge. The weather was a cool – 25 C, so mushers prepared their teams by putting booties on their dogs’ paws to protect them from icing up. Some dogs also got jackets and leggings that could be taken off as the weather warmed. As the start time approached, the barking in the start area got louder with every dog eager to run. Finally, with the start clock reaching 12:00 noon, teams hit the trail and the race was on.
Although unforeseen circumstances prevented some regular Challenge mushers from racing in 2020, the race was a good success. This was thanks to a large number of dedicated volunteers, the Canadian Rangers who did an enormous amount of work building the race trail, and the sponsors who allowed the Race Committee to pay expenses and provide mushers with prize payouts.
The Canadian Challenge is especially grateful to the Northern Lights Community Development Corporation for being a major sponsor of the race. Its generous contribution has gone a long way to supporting the sport of distance dog racing and preserving a link to northern traditions that go back into the mists of time.
Looking ahead, the Canadian Challenge’s Race Committee is already planning next year’s race. The Covid-19 pandemic presents some obstacles. Fundraising will be more difficult. And mushers from out-of-province may have unforeseen travel barriers. The Race Committee is therefore simplifying the upcoming race’s format. The 8-dog race and the 12-dog race will be combined into a 10-dog race, and the 10-dog distance will be set at 336 km (200 miles). As for the 6-dog race, it will still be offered as a short race option.
So far, the Challenge’s race changes have been well received by the distance mushing community. There have been several sign-ups for the 10-dog race already. And early indications are that the Challenge will continue to be a qualifying race for both the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest. Things are looking good for 2021.