Time Space Equation

All About Winter Carnivals & Dog Sled Racing

Leonard Lea Frazer

An eight-dog team at the 1974 Winter Carnival.
An eight-dog team at the 1974 Winter Carnival.
Leonard Lea Frazer photo
Winter Carnivals and Sled Dog Races seem to go hand-in-hand in Valemount. Both in 1974 and 1987 Valemount played host to a variety of winter events including the B.C. Sled Dog Championship Races in ’74.

In 1974 local businessman (and future mayor) Jack Nicholson lead a committee of volunteers that organized and presented an all inclusive Winter Carnival held on February 9th and 10th. Seven teenage girls competed for the honour of “Carnival Queen.” They included Carmen-Anne Duncan, sponsored by the Valemount Fire Department; Rhonda Tamboline, Valemount Curling Club; Heidi Gehrig, Lions Club; Shirley Basaraba, Valemount Chamber of Commerce; Sharon Larsen, Valemount Barons hockey team; and Renee Labbe, Canadian Mountain Holidays. Carmen-Anne was crowed Queen at a dinner held at the Ptarmigan Restaurant.

The Winter Carnival events included: a Teen Dance at the Legion and Adult Dance at the Community Hall (both with live music), Ice Sculpture Contest, Curling Mini Bonspiel, Minor Hockey Game, Novelty Hockey Game (North Croydon Crippled Nipples vs. Valemount Lovelies), Pancake Breakfast, Sno Cross (snowmobile) Obstacle Race, Cross Country Ski Race, children’s and adults’ Snowshoe Races, Weight Packing Contest, Dog Weight Pulling event, kid’s Tea-boiling Contest, Beans and Bannock Dinner, and Figure Skating in the arena. Also, the “Mayor’s” Sled Dog Race saw Ralph Lebans out-race other local mushers that included Judge Rupert Murphy, Jack Nicolson and Echo Editor, Pete Shepherd. The Men’s Snowshoe Obstacle Race attracted eleven competitors with the top three places earned by Tony Parisi, David Frye, and Bob Griffin.  Catherine McKirdy packed 260 lbs. in the Weight Packing Contest and won the Women’s Snowshoe Race, followed by Ann McKirdy and Janet Mason.

Derk Albers of Vanderhoof won the B.C. Sled Dog Championship on a 12.5 mile track (at Valemount). The competitors traveled the route twice over a two-day period.  Derk’s track record time for the 25 mile event was 105 minutes 4 seconds, or an average of 14.3 m.p.h. for the eight-dog team. Other contestants included John St. Germain of Prince George, Herb Brade, Tommy Hindmarch, Glen McNolty, George Davidson, Len Hopper and Jim Hussey (all from Vanderhoof), Ernie and Mary Simms of McLeese Lake, and Marvin Anchikoski of Prince George.

Some of the guests of honour and who enjoyed a sightseeing trip in a helicopter were Valemount Mayor Ralph Lebans, G. Nichol, Mayor of Kamloops, Mrs. Gordon Udell, Mr. and Mrs. Doug Taggert, Mayor of McBride, Paul St. Pierre, columnist for the Vancouver Sun, and the Winter Carnival Queen, Carmen-Anne Duncan.

In 1987 another Valemount Winter Carnival was highlighted by Sled Dog Races held at Camp Creek and snowmobile Hill Climb at Allen Creek, both just south of Valemount.  The Sled Dog Races included Four, Six and Eight Dog Races. Contestants came from Prince George, Vernon, 100 Mile House, Lac La Hache, Lumby and Langley. Miss Valemount Sports Day 1986 Kathy Blackman was on hand to present the cash prizes and trophies to the winners. 

 

The following is a story I wrote in the Feb.18, 1987 edition of the Canoe Mt. Echo. 

 

“Ever wonder how dog sled races began? Around the turn of the century, in Alaska and the Yukon, dog sledding was develop-ed as a cure for cabin fever. Today, it has evolved into a highly technical sport, and with the changes came an increase in popularity. In Europe, for example, there are now over 5000 teams.

Dog sled racing is considered a very romantic sport. The dog drivers (or mushers) and their teams put on a show while they compete against one another. Anyone who had the opportunity to view the recent Valemount races held at Camp Creek during the first week of the Winter Carnival will know how exciting and colourful this kind of event can be. Most of the dog sled drivers dress in colourful clothes and some even wear large hats made of wolf or fox fur.

Harvey Clark, of Prince George, has trained several dogs over the past few years. His method involves the following: (a) the pups start their training with only a lead and collar; (b) then the first dog harness is worn by the young dogs for awhile; (c) then a small weight is tied to the collar and the dog is allowed to run around to get used to the weight; (d) then a 13" car tire is tied to the harness and the dog will pull this for awhile; (e) then a 16" car tire is used; (f) then both tires are used together.

When a young dog-in-training is first connected to a team, it will be placed opposite an experienced sled dog. The first run will involve about a three to four mile track using three older dogs and the trainee. The team driver will stop approximately every mile to give the new dog a five-minute break. "The idea is to make it fun for them (the dogs)," says Mr. Clark.

Mr. Clark prefers to train his dogs on the snow while other dog owners use training carts with wheels during the summer months. The large dry land carts are equipped with a locking break which, when applied, brings the cart to a standstill. This step in the training process is used in conjunction with the command to stop. Some of the commonly used commands in dog sledding are: "Hike - go, Whoa - stop, easy - take it easy, gee - right and haw - left." The lead dogs take the commands although "Fairbanks leaders" are sometimes used. These dogs will follow a well-marked trail.

The wooden dog sleds are designed for carrying a load although in most 4, 6 or 8 dog races only the empty sled and the driver standing at the back are actually pulled. Each sled is equipped with a foot break and a snow hook. The foot break can be used to slow down the team, although to actually stop a team the snow hook is used. This device is designed as an anchor, weighs about 25 lbs and has two razor sharp spike-like hooks that spread and sink deeper into the snow as the dog team continues to pull. A very well made “dog pack” made of gortex, can usually be seen in each of the empty sleds. This pack is designed to carry an injured dog and is mandatory in most races.

The sled runners or the thin skids that the sleds run on, some-times have interchangeable plastic runners that can be changed for individual snow conditions.

During a dog sled race, each team is individually timed from start to finish. At the beginning of each race several extra people hold back the team until the official starting signal has been made. When the dogs take off, the driver runs for a few yards and then hops on the runners. During the course of the race the driver will do some running and some "pumping" which is the back kick motion commonly seen in races.

Some races offer large cash prizes and trophies. The Whitehorse-Fairbanks "Yukon Quest" will soon be starting. This is a 500 mile race and the course crosses the Arctic Circle, an American/Canadian race. There will be dog sled races held in Canmore, Alberta during next year’s Winter Olympics and hope-fully again in Valemount during our next Winter Carnival.”

Peter and Ulli Vogler travelled from Lac La Hache to participate in the Valemount Dog Sled Races in1987. Peter placed 5th in the Six Dog Race
Peter and Ulli Vogler travelled from Lac La Hache to participate in the Valemount Dog Sled Races in1987. Peter placed 5th in the Six Dog Race
Leonard Lea Frazer photo