The Mount Lorne Christmas Classic was a new sled dog race and a chance to try out new pups in a distance event.
Gerry Willomitzer of Shallow Bay, Yukon, did just that. He, on the other hand, didn’t feel like a pup in the race.
“This may have been the first race in which I was the oldest musher,” said the 46-year-old with chuckle.
Willomitzer’s “pup run” in the two-day stage race worked out, placing first out of nine teams. He finished the race from Mount Lorne Community Centre to Annie Lake, around the lake, and back in six hours and 30 minutes.
The Yukon Quest and Iditarod veteran completed the first 69-kilometres in 3:13 on Saturday and was four minutes slower on the way back on Sunday.
“I could have been faster today,” he said. “I use these types of races to experiment a little and try out some young dogs. Today I had a young dog that got tired, so I loaded him up after 25 miles. So that cost me a little bit of time at the end. But all and all it was really good, really enjoyable.”
Whitehorse’s Marine Gastard placed second at 6:49 and Whitehorse’s Magnus Kaltenborn third at 6:50. Rounding out the top five were Alex Rochet at 7:20 and Matthew Rydholm at 7:26.
The Christmas Classic, which was postponed a couple weeks due to a paucity of snow, was a stripped down race with no bells and whistles – no award ceremony or post-race dinner. It was an independent event put on by mushers, for mushers.
“It’s a prep race to go in the longer races, a way to get young dogs in the races before going to a 300-mile or something,” said Maren Bradley, one of the race organizers. “So like (eighth place’s) Sebastien
(Dos Santos Borges) is running the Copper Basin next weekend and will be in the Yukon Quest as well. So he’s using this race to see how his dogs behave in a race and to get the passing practice that you don’t get in training.”
Willomitzer and his team are currently preparing for the biggest race in the Lower 48. They will represent Yukon at the seven-day seven-stage Eukanuba Stage Stop Sled Dog Race in Wyoming beginning in Jackson Hole on Jan. 29.
“We’re doing something really different this year, racing a big stage race in Wyoming, so (the Christmas Classic) is the perfect tune-up for that in terms of distance and the speed you run,” said Willomitzer.
“The (Wyoming) race has been going on for 20 years … I handled for (Yukon musher) William Kleedehn in that race in 1997, so this is a bit of a trip down memory lane … That was the first big race I ever went to as a handler. Nineteen years later I’m going back to race it.”
The Christmas Classic was held on many of the same trails that will be used at the 22nd annual Carbon Hill Sled Dog Race, a Dog Powered Sports Association of the Yukon event, on Jan. 17.
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