Representing Canada in her backyard
|By Alex Coop - Staff Writer | January 19, 2017
Carnarvon skijorer Karen Koehler is looking forward to sleeping in her bed with her dogs cuddled up by her feet ahead of the 2017 International Federation of Sleddog Sports (IFSS) Sleddog World Championships at Haliburton Forest.
To save money during other races, Koehler and her dogs sometimes sleep in a tent near the race venue, but because this year’s world championships are being held a short drive away starting Jan. 24, she can sleep at home.Almost half of her races last year were 12 hours away.
“There will be more competitors this year at Haliburton Forest, so my main goal is to have fun sleeping in my own bed at night and to stay relaxed so I can perform my best with my dogs,” Koehler told The Highlander.
Koehler, who is the president of the Ontario Federation of Sleddog Sports and a board member for the Canadian Association of Harness Dog Sports (CAHDS), is joining a Canadian team that continues to grow every year.
“I don’t think the CAHDS has ever seen so many applications to compete at worlds as there were this year,” Koehler wrote in an email.Eleven countries are expected to participate in the championships.
Coinciding with Canada’s 150th anniversary, the 2017 IFSS Sleddog World Championship is an internationally sanctioned, nine-day competition taking place on Canadian snow for the first time since 2009.
Skijoring, pulka, and dog sledding are the primary events.
Koehler played a big role in helping Haliburton Forest win the bid for the event, says Haliburton Forest project manager Tegan Legge.
“Karen approached myself and Peter (Schleifenbaum) over two years ago,” Legge wrote in an email. Several meetings and consultations later, Haliburton Forest put its name in the hat and ultimately won the bid. In Europe, tens of thousands of people come out to watch the world championships, but Legge isn’t expecting those types of numbers.
“North American culture is different and also a bit less accessible,” she explained. “We are hoping for an average of 500 spectators per day. This could be 200 one day and 1,000 on the weekend.”
But Canadians across the country are very passionate about the dog sledding community, says Sarah Warford, CAHDS regional director for the maritime provinces.
“It’s always been popular in Canada, but it’s the thousands of kilometres that separate the kennels and race venues that create a challenge,” she said. “In Europe, the landscape and population is more condensed, making it easier to get from one race to another.”
In addition to the strong bonds formed between the athletes and their dogs, harness dog sports provide the furry companions with physical and mental stimulation, Warford says. In North America, 40 to 50 per cent of pet dogs are obese, according to the CAHDS.
“There is a huge need for dogs to be active,” Warford said.
“Skijoring and dog sledding gets dogs that were bred to run to do what they love,” she wrote. “Like many dogs in this world that take pride in their work and get depressed or anxious if they don’t have a job, these dogs are no different.”
Where to watch the action:
Haliburton Forest Base Camp
Along the 300m walk to the start and finish lines, spectators will make their way through the dog yard seeing teams as they get ready to race. Base Camp will also be host to opening ceremonies, medal presentations, various food vendors and other special attractions such as a toboggan hill. There will be a $5 per car charge.
Continue past the start and finish line on a short 500m walk through a forest trail that runs parallel to the race course. Spectators will see teams as they come down the North Road or through the Wild Woods Walk on their last 500m to the finish line. Competitors call it “No Man’s Land.”
Hitch a ride with one of the shuttle vans and trek through the woods on a 300m snowy trail that once was a traditional portage route from Redstone Lake to MacDonald Lake. Concessions and souvenirs will be available at MacDonald Lake. Make sure to have cash on-hand.
** NOTE: snowshoes will be available to rent at $2/pair through the main office at Base Camp. Information from worlddogsleddingchampionships.ca
ALEX COOP is a reporter for The Highlander.