The Caledonia Classic Sled Races are on schedule and this year they have five teenagers participating in the event as well.
“I like the challenge. I like to work the dogs and I like the companionship of the dogs, how we direct each other and how we push each other,” said Sean Houghton, a participant and grade 10 student at Fort St. James Secondary School (FSJSS).
Houghton is participating in the six dog sprint which is a six mile event. He said they have been training for five days a week, for the sled races.
“We practice passing so when we get into the race, dogs aren’t scared of passing the other team. We also practice running them slower so they can maintain speed for a longer distance and we practice running them fast so they can run fast for a shorter distance,” he said.
Lovis Hanks, grade 9 student at FSJSS is another participant and even though she has only been dog sledding for a year, she loves the sport.
“Being able to go to a bunch of different places is the best thing,” said Hanks when asked why she loved the sport.
Apart from Houghton and Hanks, other young participants are from Vanderhoof, Germansen Landing and Fort St. John.
The 24th annual Caledonia Classic Sled Races will be held on Feb. 8, 9 and 10. The categories this year include sprint races (4 dog, 6 dog and 2 dog skijoring), purebred classes in 4 and 6 dog sprint races and the 200 mile continuous race (Yukon Quest Qualifier).
Craig Houghton, race participant and event organizer said the event is important as it not only promotes the the event of dog sledding, but it’s become one of the consistent events in the community that people come out to watch.
“People bring their kids for the kid and mutt race and it’s a good break from the winter. And at the moment, we are the only dog race left in the Province,” he said.
The Caledonia Sled Races is one of two, 200 miles races in Canada and participants this year are coming from Oregon, Saskatchewan and Yukon. The Yukon Quest is the other big dog sledding race in the country and it goes into Alaska. Teams come to Fort St. James to qualify for that race.
“We actually have some of the best trails and variety of trails to run the races – some of the races are straight lake or straight hills – we have both – we have hills, we have lakes, it just breaks it down,” he said.
Hougton said they have partnered with Search and Rescue this year, so the latter can use it as a training session to help at the event if an emergency were to occur. They have also partnered with the Snowmobile Club and the UNBC Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Management program.
“They [UNBC] send us students to help us with the event. They volunteer their time and a professor comes along with them and we get anywhere between 10 to 15 students. In this event, some of the students will be camped out overnight at our layover checkpoint,” he said.
Houghton said for there will be concessions at the lake for people to eat. Most people come to watch the sprint events because it is more spectator friendly. There will be a Kid and Mutt race and the Politicians Event which is entertaining for people, he said.
For the 200 mile race, the mushers have a mandatory six hour layover at halfway point which is at the Dog Creek Road on Hwy 27. However, Houghton said typically participants will run 50 miles and rest 2 hours and very few will run a 100 miles straight because of the hilly terrain.
“Just come out and see it. It is very exciting,” he said.