Yukon’s Rachel Kinvig is making her last season of competitive dog sledding a good one.
Kinvig raced to third place overall in the six-dog, 6.5-miles division at the 2013 IFSS Winter World Championships in North Pole, Alaska, over the weekend.
Though the 16-year-old from the Annie Lake area is still eligible for the junior division, the worlds were the second event in a row she decided to compete as an adult.
“For the last couple of years I’ve been racing junior and I’ve accomplished a lot in those years, so we decided to do something with a little more competition,” said Kinvig.
“I feel great about (the results), they’re all great accomplishments – especially the worlds.”
The weekend before the world championships, Kinvig cleaned house at the Caledonia Classic Dog Sled Races in Fort St. James, B.C.
Kinvig won the six-dog and four-dog adult categories.
“It was good that I went to that one before the worlds because it allowed the dogs to experience a little more passing and focus more,” she said.
Kinvig also placed 14th in the four-dog, 4.5-miles at the worlds in North Pole. She was a last-minute fill-in for another Canadian team that scratched before the start of the race.
“I took her place and I didn’t make my team as competitive as my six-dog team,” said Kinvig. “There was some really competitive teams in the four-dog.”
“She took two of her main dogs and put in two of her, basically, new dogs – untried leaders – and ran it anyway,” added coach and father Darren Kinvig.
Rachel has decided to step away from the sport she has accomplished so much in, following this season. Pursuing a post-secondary education and raising another dog team would be too difficult, she said.
“Next year is my last year of high school and after high school I’m going to be going off to college,” said the Grade 11 student at F.H. Collins in Whitehorse. “Raising another litter of puppies would take another two years until they are competitive. So we decided this would be my last year.”
Of course, Rachel could always return to mushing in the years to come. “Definitely,” she confirmed.
Rachel is the most decorated musher in Arctic Winter Games history.
She produced an incredible win streak spanning three Arctic Games between 2008 and 2012, never losing a race and collecting a total of eight gold medals. She won two gold medals last year at the Games in Whitehorse, but did not start the final race.
Rachel won her division at the 2011 Junior World Championship in Anchorage, Alaska. She won all three of her races, setting a course record on the Tozier Track in the five-dog, six-mile class en route to becoming a junior world champion.
Last year she finished second in the seven-dog, 8.1-mile class at the junior worlds. She was one second behind the winner after three days of racing spanning 24.3 miles.
“I spend a lot of time doing what I do, I put a lot of effort in,” said Rachel.
At the world championships last weekend, Rachel was taking on teams from IFSS countries Finland, Norway, Germany, Sweden, Russia, U.S.A. and Canada. But her team had a distinct difference.
“I was the only team there with Alaskan husky dogs,” said Kinvig. “Everyone else had hound crosses.”
Scandinavian hounds have revolutionized sprint mushing in recent years. They are built for speed, not long distances, so you won’t see dogs like that running the Yukon Quest or the Iditarod.
“When you race those people, they usually run long-legged, Scandinavian hounds,” said Darren. “Some of those dogs had knitted sweaters on at the awards ceremony because they were so cold. They have short to no hair.
“So Rachel, Leanne (Kinvig) and I got a lot of comments; ‘Wow, you have some really good dogs there.’ Huskies usually fall way behind the hounds nowadays because of the differences in the dogs.”
“We never did breed into the hounds too much because we didn’t need to, they stayed competitive.”
Finishing second in both categories at the Caledonia event was fellow Yukoner Dave Johnson of Tagish.
Johnson, who runs dogs from Terry Streeper’s kennel, reputed to be the fastest sprint dogs in the world, placed first in the 10-dog division at the Caledonia event.
Though only 12 seconds separated Rachel from Johnson in the four-dog race, she outpaced him by over four minutes in the six-dog.
“She went down there and smoked some of the fastest dogs in the world there, too,” said Darren, who was named Coach of the Year at the Sport Yukon Awards Night in December. “Then we turned around, went all the way back to Whitehorse, and all the way up to North Pole where she raced the following weekend. It was quite the jag for her.”
Rachel isn’t quite done yet. She plans to race in the Tok Race of Champions in a couple weeks.
Contact Tom Patrick at email@example.com