This week has been pretty much a musher's dream - three snow races here in Vic, lots of snow, lots of happy dogs - it's proving a bit hard to keep up!! We started the week with the first Mt Baw Baw Sleddog Dash, and it was brilliant.
For a first time race, the teething issues were dealt with quickly, the mood was positive and calm, and the dog care was exemplary. What more can a spectator ask for?
On Saturday, the first big challenge was to stay flexible while the mushing order was changed. And changed back. And changed again. The race organisers did their best to try to work out how to give all the classes the best chance of having a good run. Fitting in with the resort requirements was part of the challenge, and making sure mushers were able to do their pre race preparation of their dogs (hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!!) was also problematic. But at 3pm, the racing started with brilliant blue skies and great snow underfoot.
With the start chute positioned about half way along the first road into the village, we were very much in the public eye. The staging area was split by a road full of day trippers wandering in and out of the village. Several teams set up dog lines amongst the trees on the flat side of the road, and then needed to transfer dogs to ganglines and sleds on the opposite side. The slope reduced the amount of space available, so it was very impressive to see up to five teams all lined up next to each other, all excited but waiting politely. Gradually, the line started to move towards the start line and they took off into the bush.
On Saturday, the teams were out for a very long time. Three of the four-dog teams were out for over an hour and a half. It turned out that the trails were much longer than estimated. At a dry land race, its not uncommon for the trail marshal to drive over 100km, setting up and adjusting the trails. Setting trails with a skido lacked the precision of the usual measurements. This was adjusted for Sunday, which made the mushers very happy.
Unusually, there was also a one-dog class offered. At other snow races, the smallest teams are two-dogs, due to the effort of running on snow. But there was an option for a one-dog class at Mt Baw Baw, which was taken up by our friend from Obedience, Smudge. Smudge has been recovering from a knee injury and his musher just wanted to take him out for some fun. Snow angels, photographer kisses, Smudgey came home looking absolutely chuffed. His musher had done a lot of heavy lifting out on the trail to protect Smudge's leg - and he came home looking puffed, not chuffed! But hey, that's what we do for our furkids!
We're not the only ones who love our dogs - the skiers, boarders and day trippers were very very keen to meet the dogs. They are gorgeous, especially when they look this happy. There were Siberian and Alaskan huskies, Alaskan malamutes, German short-haired pointers and Eurohounds. The challenge was to ensure that every meeting was a positive one for both the dogs and the people. Before racing, many of the dogs get very excited. Some people were very polite and asked for permission to meet the dogs. We need more of that!
Late on Saturday, the weather started to close in and it was decided to cancel the six-dog class. We retreated to our lodge and woke up to amazing, fresh snow for Sunday morning.
As well as checking out the start chute, Wee Monster and I walked down to the corner where J was being a corner marshal. It was a difficult part of the course - the teams were coming down a steep slope beside the Tank Hill run, and turning a corner that was close to a U bend, before heading up a gradually increasing but winding cross country trail. At the corner, there were masses of distractions - the dogs had a clear view of a ski school class, the kiosk and the hut where the local dog team are managed. Add in some spectators and a corner marshal, and the dogs were really challenged to look for the corner, rather than go visiting with some new friends! This corner was used for all of the classes, both coming from and returning to the start chute - which meant that some teams had "head on" passing with teams travelling in the opposite direction.
I also spent some time watching the start chute from the viewing platform at the cafe. It was lovely... but very cold!!
Unfortunately the blue skies didn't last... during Sunday afternoon, the weather closed in. Snow started falling again and the temperature plummeted. Dog trailer doors froze shut, cars wouldn't start... the road started to get dangerous. After a few cars slid off the road, it was closed for about three hours. We kept hearing reports of more accidents and more vehicles getting into trouble, even 4WDs. There was a quick meeting in the carpark where the dog trailers were parked and most mushers decided to wait, even stay an extra night and travel down the next morning. A group of us adjourned to the lodge for showers, meals and a fire while we waited to see what was going to happen.
While we waited, we got to watch some videos of the teams out on the trail. It was so amazing, watching the dogs power along, through these beautiful tree lined, pristine white trails. Gorgeous!!
Because J and I didn't have any dogs to worry about, we were able to wait til the road was clear of accidents and the backlog of cars. We reloaded our gear, and strapped the Wee Monster in. It took us about 15 minutes, travelling with chains on, at about 15-20km/h, to get down the short piece of road to the Alpine Resort Gate. We heard that some of the cars that left in the earlier line of cars took over 90 minutes to travel the same distance. The group that stayed the night took even longer - more snow fell on Sunday night and the resort had to organise support to get the dog trailers down the road safely. The perils of snow racing!!!
Overall, it was an amazing weekend. To be so close to Melbourne, on such a beautiful mountain, with such fantastic snow and brilliant dogs, it was wonderful. Hopefully next year, I'll get to skijor at Baw Baw, because this is a race that I really want to be part of.
Thankyou to the organising committee and the resort for such a great weekend.
For some great photos of the racing, check out Catemac Photography's albums.