On the bright side, the Yukon will be represented by experienced, champion mushers at the upcoming Arctic Winter Games.
On the down side, there will be only two of them.
The Junior Association of Mushers in the Yukon held its trials for the Arctic Winter Games on Sunday at Annie Lake, finding only two junior mushers wishing to go to Grande Prairie in March.
A lack of junior or sprint races in the Yukon has hindered youth participation in the sport for years.
Still, the meagre turnout is still hard to explain for Darren Kinvig, president of Yukon Junior Association of Mushers.
“Maybe they don’t have dogs this year; sometimes they have them, sometimes they don’t,” said Darren. “A lot of kennels with parents that have kids and sled dogs are disappearing.
“That’s not good for bringing up mushers in the Yukon.
“I think the commitment, financially and time wise, is so huge that a lot of families are not taking it on. There’s a lot to do.”
Making up the two-person team are Ben and Rachel Kinvig, Darren’s son and daughter.
For Ben, the sparse turnout was no surprise.
“I know that people that people are kind of getting out of it,” said Ben. “And the people that are doing it aren’t that enthusiastic about it and don’t want to do it anymore.”
The reduced team numbers will undoubtedly plague the mushers in the combined team-score event, but Ben explains that it makes little difference while racing individually.
“It’s not that bad because the team is really you and your dogs,” said Ben. “It would be nice to have other people with you, but you don’t totally need other team members.”
Despite the small team, the two Yukoners will be the mushers to beat at the Games, with noteworthy performances last season.
Last February at the Junior World Championship Sled Dog race in Anchorage, Ben, 16, finished first and Rachel, 13, fifth in their respective divisions. A couple weeks later, the two repeated their results at the Junior North American Championships in Fairbanks.
“There’s a race there almost every weekend,” said Darren. “Whereas here we don’t have sprint races anymore, so we definitely have to be travelling to find them.”
At the 2008 Arctic Winter Games, on a team of four junior mushers, Rachel swept the competition, winning three medals, while Ben won a gold and a bronze.
“That is the positive side – we’re pretty lucky to get to go again,” said Darren.
The Kinvigs are hoping to get in some races before the Arctic Games, but have not committed to anything at this point.
“We don’t have a schedule yet, and a lot of races haven’t been announced yet,” said Darren. “Definitely it’s important that we do go to some competitions before the Arctic Winter Games to make sure the kids and the dogs are ready to go race.”
The Yukon Junior Association of Mushers is still up and running, but any newcomers to the sport will have more obstacles to overcome because the Kinvigs no longer have enough dogs to supply many others with.
“We’re still a functioning club, we just not gaining members,” said Darren. “I think it’s due to the fact it’s a costly, time-taxing sport.
“I know there are kids out there that would like to do it, and we’ve offered our kennel before, and we tried to supply the dogs for the kids, but we don’t have enough dogs anymore to keep them for everyone else. And there aren’t any new kennels starting up.”
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