In the Fish Lake Road area on Sunday, a lot of poker faces included red noses and whiskers caked with snow. They also had beer breath.
Twenty-three mushing teams tried their luck at the Reach for the Sky and Take the Beer event, a 37-kilometre jaunt starting on Fish Lake Road during which participants picked up playing cards at six different stops. The eventual winner was not the first over the finish line, but the one who finished with the best poker hand.
Proving himself a five-card stud, David Mason rode in with an ace-high flush for the win, plus $450 and an Air North voucher. Pierre Duc came second with a queen-high flush and Deb Knight third with an eight-high straight.
“Before I even realized I won, we were like, ‘Wow, this is amazing,’” said Mason. “The trails and the volunteers – it was a really good race.
“It was an amazingly beautiful trail – the views were breathtaking.”
Having just moved to Whitehorse two months ago from Salmo, BC, it was Mason’s first Copper Haul Twister league event.
“Here there are so many trails and it’s so musher friendly,” said Mason. “It’s impressive that Jonathan (Lucas) organizes all this with his wife (Laura J. Lucas). It’s a lot of work, so a big thanks from us.”
The 37-kilometre course required teams to climb 600 metres 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.
Just in its third year, the Copper Haul Twister event had four more teams than last year, which had five more than the first.
“I think the Copper Haul Twister (mushing series) has stimulated local mushing around Whitehorse, and we’ve received support from the newspapers and the radio,” said Lucas. “People know they can come out and have a good race.”
The Twister event also featured First Mate Extreme Freight Pull at the Icy Water’s fish farm, a contest to see which dog could pull the heaviest sleigh, made incrementally heavier with each attempt. Talking about earning their grub, the winning dogs in each division were awarded the bags of dog food used to weight down the sled.
Taking first for the third year in a row in the medium size division was Lucas’ dog, Asha, a seven-year-old rottweiler weighing in at about 44 kilograms. Digging her paws into the snow for traction, Asha pulled 217 kilograms, down from 218 kilograms last year.
“The first pull there, I called her and she gave me a great big yawn and then, OK, and pulled it,” said Lucas. “She got to me and the poor girl was like, ‘Where’s the treat,’ because in training she gets a piece of meat.”
Asha will also be competing at a freight pull at Rendezvous in the middleweight class, hoping to win her fourth straight in February. At Rendezvous she set her record of more than 226 kilograms.
“It depends on the surfaces,” said Lucas. “As you put more weight on it, it beds in and it’s harder for them to break (the sled) out. They get the momentum and get going – it’s just getting that initial break.”
Laura J. Lucas’ rottweiler, Puck, 2, won the heavyweight division, as the only dog entered.
Janet Keller’s Zoya, four, a Canadian Eskimo dog (or Canadian Inuit dog) purebred, weighing in at 24 kilograms, pulled 122.5 kilograms for a win in the lightweight division.
At last year’s Rendezvous festivities in Whitehorse, Zoya won the middleweight division by pulling about 184 kilograms.
“We practiced before (Rendezvous), we didn’t practice today,” said Keller. “Plus the sled is a little weird. It bangs and scares them a little bit.
“Since there are very few purebred Eskimo huskies left, the breed is slowly going extinct. So I like to bring her out, show her around, to educate people that there is such a breed.”
Eskimo huskies are not only on of the oldest and rarest purebred breeds of indigenous domestic canines, it is also the national dog of Canada.
Although not a race, organizers did keep track of the mushers’ times.
Coming in with the fastest time of one hour, 52 minutes and two seconds was Luc Tweddell, seven seconds up from Martine Le-Levier. Maren Bradley slid in third with a time of 1:59:36.
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