Haines Junction’s 160-kilometre sled dog race, The Silver Sled, is heading into its 12th incarnation in March, and the event just keeps growing.
Last year, the organizers expanded the scope of the event, adding several new races and other activities over a nine-day period, and dubbed the whole thing the Kluane Winterfest.
“It’s always getting bigger, which is great for the local businesses,” said Richard Anderson, president of the Silver Sled Race Committee.
He estimated that more than 100 volunteers, from Haines Junction, Whitehorse, Destruction Bay and Haines, Alaska, show up to send the racers off with style.
“It’s a pretty slick little race,” said Anderson. “We definitely take care of the mushers.”
During the overnight, two-stage race, mushers leave Haines Junction and travel 80-kilometres along the old Mendenhall wagon road and the old pipeline trail to Silver City — spending the night at the Kluane Bed and Breakfast, enjoying the hospitality of the Sias family and heading back to the Junction in the morning after a couple of good meals.
So far, no one’s had to spend a cold night outside.
“We’ve always been able to get everybody into the cabins,” said Anderson. “There’s a wall tent out there we’ve never used.”
That tent may finally see some use if the race continues to grow, and the word is spreading.
Last year, a musher from New Zealand showed up to race with a team of Frank Turner’s dogs.
And the world-famous setting doesn’t hurt either.
“The trail is so good, the scenery is spectacular — through the Saint Elias Foothills,” he added.
It’s the perfect race for mushers who are jumping to undertake longer distances, with the trail never straying too far from the Alaska Highway.
It’s not just a pleasure tour though, there is a purse to be won.
“We say it’s $5,000, but it’s usually a bit more,” said Anderson. “But, honestly, most mushers don’t do it for the money.”
The expanded Winterfest schedule added the Chili Paw, a 64-kilometre race; the Sportsman’s, a 16-kilometre race; the Frank and Josie Sias Open, a 16-kilometre junior race; three skijoring distance races (80-, 16- and eight-kilometre), a triathlon and the George Washington weight pull.
Winterfest isn’t just dog sports, though — there is a casino night hosted by the Lions Club, and movie nights at the convention centre, ice-sculpture, pond hockey, ice-fishing, snowmobiling and more.
“It’s been wonderful to branch out with other community groups,” said Anderson.
This year they’ve joined forces with the folks behind the popular Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival to add a little twang to the event.
“We’re hoping to bring up Four Chords of Wood, a bluegrass band from Victoria,” he said. “We’d like to get some workshops going at the church. There’s not much point just having them here for a single show, we’ve got to get our money’s worth out of them,” he laughed.
Anderson hopes the wide range of activities will bring out new volunteers to shoulder some the burden.
“I’m the last of the original founding members — it would be good for us to get some new blood.”
And although the race has been going for a dozen years, Anderson has never competed — “I’d like to race it someday, but somebody would have to do my job,” he said with a laugh.
The heart of the Kluane Winterfest, The Silver Sled, runs March 1-2, and activities run all week until March 9. Surf to www.thesilversled.com for updates.