Cariboo Challenge cancelled due to snow shortage

Popular sled dog race stands down until next year's event

The 2015 Cariboo Challenge Jack Gawthorn Memorial Sled Dog Race, which was slated to take place at the 108 Heritage Site on Jan. 10-11, has been cancelled.

Cariboo Challenge Sled Dog Society president Craig Conklin says poor snow levels and the 10-day advance notice needed for out-of-town mushers led to the race committee’s Dec. 30 decision to call it off this year.

“Due to the low- to no-snow conditions and for the safety of the dogs and mushers, it is with regrets, and unfortunate, that we will be cancelling the 2015 Cariboo Challenge Jack Gawthorn Memorial Sled Dog Race.”

The last time this popular event did not happen was January 2012 (also due to a lack of snow), but there have been very few cancellations over the event’s 26-year history, he adds.

“This is not an easy decision to make; however, the majority of the committee agreed that it would be better to be safe than sorry. Many mushers have to travel long distances and we felt we needed to give them a head’s up before they start their travels.”

Noting the committee will now focus their attention on the Cariboo Challenge Family Fun Night street festival on Jan. 9, Conklin says they hope to see folks turn out and have a chat with the mushers while everyone enjoys the festivities.

This year’s race planning had seen a good number of volunteers and much-appreciated financial support from local businesses, he adds.

“It was looking like it was going to be a great event. People say ‘we have three inches of snow’ – well, unfortunately we have to pack a trail that will hold a snow hook, which is like the emergency brake….

“If you have to change out one of the dogs or a lead gets tangled, it has got to be able to hold that sled.”

Conklin explains that even if snow is in the forecast, mushers from as far away at the Yukon face a bunch of packing up of equipment and sled dogs followed by a long trip, so organizers don’t want them to arrive and find the race is not happening.

While there used to be a sizable sled dog circuit in the province, that’s not the case anymore, he notes.

“Unfortunately the majority of the races have gone by the wayside. There is our event, the Gold Rush Mail Run event in Quesnel [later in January] and then the Caledonia Classic in Ft. St. John at the end of February. And, that’s it for B.C. – those are the ones still in existence.”

He adds the Quesnel race always has more location options with plenty of snow, such as relocating nearer to Wells, and is a more “primitive” race where low snow doesn’t cancel the race – but it can sure leave a mark. Conklin says he and his friend both broke sleds there racing off-trail in the backwoods, he explains.

“It wants to mimic more the original old mail runs, and the hardships on the trail.”

The Cariboo Challenge needs more volunteers to take on the organizing tasks several months ahead of the annual races, not just on race days, as several of the current organizers are nearing retirement and expected to step down soon, Conklin adds.

He says the society is very grateful to its business sponsors, including Taseko Mines ($5,000), Horton Ventures ($1,000), Central GM ($1,000) and The Hills Health Ranch (in-kind).

“The Hills is huge because they do a lot of the grooming and they donate a lot of employee time [for race administration].”

The local sled dog society always appreciates more donations for future events because these races are a fundraiser for the 108 Heritage Site, Conklin explains.

“It’s kind of a bad thing for them, too, because they are not going to get the funds that they normally would.”