Local skijorer Karen Koehler an IFSS world champion veteran is the lone local resident competing for Canada. /File photo

Forest ready for world event during Canada’s sesquicentennial

By Darren Lum

Published Jan. 17 2017

The best mushers around the world are converging on the Haliburton Forest and Wild Life Reserve for the 2017 Winter Sleddog World Championship from Jan. 24 to Feb. 1.

Conditions for the event likened to an Olympics for dogsledding sports have been ideal and the venue is set said Haliburton Forest project manager Tegan Legge.

She said the courses for all classes held during Canada’s 150 year birthday are snow covered and have been staked and are ready as of this writing.

“We’re good to go. We just need some colder temperatures to set things and it’s going to be beautiful” she said referring to further solidifying bodies of water at the few slushy patches as of Wednesday Jan. 11.

Legge said there is an air of excitement at the Forest now for the event that will include 261 registered teams and close to 1000 dogs which far surpasses the past two events.

Back in 2015 Germany had 170 teams and while in Alaska back in 2013 there were 136 teams. IFSS championships are held every two years.

Even with teams competing in more than one of the 18 classes the Highlands venue will host an impressive 136 athletes from 11 countries which is also higher than the previous events.

“The crunch is on we’re getting there” she said. “Those last fine details that we’re putting together. Everything is looking really good.”

With a $32800 purse provided by the Forest Legge said this was a major contributor to draw athletes.

“The purse is the driver because it helps them with their travel expenses and that kind of stuff” she said. “For us it’s all about bringing more people here. To see our trail system and providing an even better opportunity for athletes to come and compete and giving them that extra little bit to drive them here.”

Rather than awarding only the top three the Forest wanted to give incentives to the top five Legge said.

For example the greatest portion of the total purse was for the Sled Sprint Unlimited class. It has $5500 of the total up for grabs. First place awards $1800 while second wins $1500 third with $1200 fourth with $600 and fifth with $400. This is an event that will feature upwards of 22 dogs for one sled and musher.

Although the total purse for the top five of all the classes was a major contributor to the strong size of the field Legge said the event is also ideally located as it is a relatively short three hour drive from the Toronto Pearson International Airport. Legge points out the quality of trails at the Forest is a positive.

Close to 75 per cent of the field is from the United States and Canada. Legge points out some Canadian athletes will be coming as far if not farther than some European competitors.

Local skijorer Karen Koehler an IFSS world champion veteran is the lone local resident competing for Canada.

The event’s 18 classes offers spectators the full array of dogsledding spectacles such as skijoring pulka relays dogsled sprints and middle distance.

It will also include an opening and closing ceremonies onsite food vendors snowshoeing and tobogganing.

Legge said the opening ceremonies will resemble the Olympic opening ceremonies except on a smaller scale.

It will be held outdoors a few steps from the main office building down the road in the field at the start/finish area and include speeches by delegates and dignitaries and feature the March of Flags close to 6:30 p.m. on Monday Jan. 23 live music will be performed by the Haliburton Highlands Youth Ensemble to sing the national anthem and local band Fifth Business will perform to start and following the speeches. It will last close to an hour.

Seating will be limited to picnic tables so be prepared to stand. The closing ceremonies will be a low key affair and include just the athletes and is not open to the public.

The public will be permitted to walk through the “dog yard” and depending on each athlete will determine the type of interactions. Legge said the public relations for the IFSS reminded her that this is an Olympics for mushers so many athletes will be very focused. There will not be any formal meet-and-greets with the athletes.

There is no cost for admission for the opening ceremony or the event. However a $5 daily charge will be levied to each vehicle to cover the cost of parking and shuttling between parking and viewing areas.

Besides the full slate of classes to see this event will provide a unique opportunity to see the Canadian Eskimo Dog in action as a mushing team from the United Kingdom is coming to provide short appearances for spectators.

Volunteers are still needed so if interested see www.haliburtonforest.com. For more information contact Tegan Legge at tlegge@haliburtonforest.com or call her at 1-800-631-2198 ext. 210.