This year may end up being The Year of Snow Races, with two new events being added to our calendar. It's a very exciting time to be involved in dogsled racing in Australia. Yes, Australia has snow, just in the south eastern mountains, just for a short winter, but we do have snow. Wet, soggy snow (my Canadian snow boots struggle with the wet nature of Australian snow sometimes). So, if you happened to be here in Victoria for the next couple of weeks, where could you see, or compete, in dogsled racing on actual snow?!
Mt Baw Baw Dog Sled Dash - 25th - 26th July 2015
Mt Baw Baw is hosting its first ever dog sled event - which is very exciting for me and J. Baw Baw is where both of us learnt to ski as kids - its a tiny mountain that is well suited for families with pre-teen kids, cross country skiers... and dog sledding. Howling Husky Sled Dog Tours have been resident at Baw Baw for the last few years, and have been working with folks from several of the racing clubs and kennels to convince the mountain management to allow the dogs to come and take over the resort.
This mountain offers the closest snow race to Melbourne, and is definitely accessible for day-tripping spectators. With an amazing network of cross country trails on offer, this mountain has the potential to offer Iditarod-style long distance racing, on a miniature scale. Accommodation includes fancy chalets, but also low budget communal lodges, making it a very affordable option.
Baw Baw has limited snow making facilities, compared to the bigger resorts, although it does get some snow falls that others don't. At the moment, its sitting pretty on a good base of 55cm.
Starting at 3pm on Saturday, the race will be sharing trails and runs with the general public, not just in the village, but on some of the major access trails as skiers finish skiing and return to their lodges in the afternoon. Trail marshals will need to be on top of their game to make sure skiers don't find themselves head to head with dog teams coming out of the start chute.
Like most of the resorts, the Baw Baw village is part of the Alpine National Park. This means that dogs are not allowed in the village and will need to be kenneled in their floats in carparks some distance from the accommodation. Fortunately, with the small size of the village, the distance from the most distant accommodation to the dogs will be manageable.
Mt Buller Sled Dog Quest - 28th - 29th July 2015
The second new race this year is at Mt Buller. Buller is also easy to access from Melbourne but is bigger and has far more developed facilities than Baw Baw. Buller hosted Australian Sled Dog Tours for the first time last year, and it is thanks to the tour operators and their associates, building a positive relationship with the mountain management, that the dog sled racing community has the opportunity to run on this mountain in 2015.
This mountain has pulled out all the stops to make the teams feel welcome, with local sponsors providing accommodation and, amazingly for an Australian race, considerable prize money.
Plentiful snow making on major runs on Tuesday evening (after the lifts have finished running for the day) will ensure a great surface and an amazing spectacle for the audience. On Wednesday morning the race gets to take in some of the beautiful tree lined trails outside the Village, avoiding skiers on the busy slopes.
A mid week race has proven very difficult for people, and entries have been small. Many mushers have traditionally taken a week or more of holidays for the Falls Creek and Dinner Plain races, and were unable to extend their holidays to include this part of the calendar. Possibly next year they will be able to make early plans to take advantage of this race, if the dates stay the same.
Another village with restricted vehicle access and no dogs allowed in the village, dog care is a challenge for competitors. The organisers and the mountain management have gone to extreme lengths to assist with this, providing shuttle buses to the carpark where dogs will be kennelled and transport for sleds and gear to the start chute for Tuesday evening's heat. On Wednesday, the teams will start from the carpark, reducing the stress for the morning start.
Update: Unfortunately, today the race committee have announced that the Mt Buller race has been cancelled.
However, we are running a demonstration on Tuesday night (28th July) and we would like to invite everyone to come along and support this event so the race can run bigger and better in 2016!!!
Falls Creek Sled Dog Classic - 31st July - 1st August 2015
This is the fifth year for the Falls Creek race, and it is wonderful to see it become entrenched in the racing season calendar. In previous years, J and I combined visiting this race with a ski trip. The furthest distance from Melbourne, I've never been able to get from work in Melbourne to Falls Creek in time for the Friday night heat. This year, its J that is stuck at work, so we won't be at this race this year, sadly.
This is the race with the party atmosphere! Saturday night in Slalom Plaza, with the commentators psyching the crowds up and presentations in the pub afterwards has a great feeling. And the Falls Bus is available to take spectators up to the mountain, via the King Valley gourmet region.
A lot of the teething issues with this race have been worked out over the last five years, but the twin bug bears of racing through the village streets and dog care in a no-dog village remain. Hopefully, with good marshals along the streets to help guide pedestrians out of the dog teams' way, this race will enjoy the great snow and great atmosphere at Victorian's highest resort.
Dinner Plain Sled Dog Challenge - 8th & 9th August 2015
The snow season finishes up with the race that started it all, the Altitude 5000's Sled Dog Challenge. Now in its 22nd year, the beautiful village of Dinner Plain, with its amazing cross country trails is a favourite holiday destination for many in the sled dog community. We even chose to get married there!
Dinner Plain is also the home of Dinner Plain Sleddog Tours!
This is the easiest village when it comes to dog care, as the village is next to, but not part of the Alpine National Park. Depending on the parking near the accommodation, teams can be kept right next to their people, making it easy to stay for longer periods of time and get in some rare training on the snow. Some accommodation even allows dogs inside!
This is the only race that is entirely run on cross country trails, so it has no snow making at all. In low snow years, the organisers have worked hard to truck in snow, but there is a limit to how much they can transport.
with so many great opportunities this year, its a great time to be getting in to dogsled racing in Australia!! Perhaps a future ASSA prize would be a Grand Slam, if a team managed to win their class in all snow races for the year? And of course, we look forward to skijorring being recognised as a major class, just as canicross and bikejorring have been this year.