Mushers come out for game of chance

The Reach for the Sky and Take the Beer event held Sunday is more about luck than speed. Starting at Icy Waters fish farm on Fish Lake Road, the 19…

The Reach for the Sky and Take the Beer event held Sunday is more about luck than speed.

Starting at Icy Waters fish farm on Fish Lake Road, the 19 mushers and their dog teams (there were 14 last year) took off on a route that brought them up and around Mount McIntyre and back again.

They collected playing cards at six different stations.

Unlike most dog-sled events, the winner was not the first over the finish line, but the one to return with the best poker hand.

“It’s the luck of the cards,” said event organizer Jonathan Lucas. “That’s what we like about it because we have four-dog teams racing against 12-dog teams. And your abilities don’t matter either, just as long as you can stay on the course and finish in four hours.”

Sliding in with a full house of nines and sixes was Will Van Randen, taking first. Kyla Boivin, with an ace-high straight, came second followed by Laura Jane Lucas with a 10-high straight.

“It adds a little bit of spice in there,” said Ed Hopkins, who completed the course first in a time of one hour 43 minutes. “My dogs made it around the course pretty quick, but it wasn’t the fast time that won.

“Actually, to be quite honest with you, the fastest time won — I had the fastest team out there today,” he added as he reconsidered things.

The 37-kilometre course required teams to climb 600 metres in altitude over the first 20 kilometres. At that point, mushers were given a beer to enjoy as they began their descent, hence the name of the event.

“It’s a good, hilly course,” said Hopkins. “There were really nice trails and it was a really nice day for a dog-race today.”

Although competing to win, according to Lucas many mushers view the race and other Copper Haul Twister League races as practice for bigger events.

“They’re fun,” said Lucas. “People can make mistakes in these races so when they get to serious races they don’t make mistakes.”

The festivities included a first mate freight pull, in which lone dogs competed to see which could pull the heaviest sled a little less than five metres in a minute.

For the third straight year, a rottweiler named Asha took the crown, pulling 218 kilograms to beat out the four other canine competitors.

“She gets really low and just pulls,” said Lucas, Asha’s owner, describing his dog’s technique.

Although Asha looked strong enough too pull a train, she hesitated occasionally as if lacking motivation.

Lucas believes he knows the cause of the breaks in concentration.

“The way I train her is with treats, so she’s used to getting a treat after every pull,” said Lucas. “It’s a double-whammy because as the competition goes on longer the weights get heavier and it gets harder, and she’s pulled seven times and still hasn’t gotten a treat. So she’s like, ‘What’s going on?’”

All the contestants were awarded bags of dog food just for competing.

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