Sled dog challenge

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Sled Dog Challenge

Across the breathtaking plateau of Dinner Plain, 10km east of Mount Hotham high up in the Victorian snowfields, the arrival of snow heralds the staging of the spectacular ADVANCE Sled Dog Challenge. Now in its 13th year this annual event showcases the top dogs of Sled Dog racing in Australia and is unique in being the only Australian snow-based race of its kind.

Attracting competitors from all over the country and with growing international attention, the ADVANCE Sled Dog Challenge is definitely the most prestigious event on the annual Sled Dog racing calendar.

More than 70 Mushers (dog team drivers) and in excess of 350 sled dogs are expected to compete in this year's event which for the first time will also feature an exhilarating touring class event. With the sport maturing, demand has peeked for a slower touring class enabling older and now retired dogs an opportunity to once again run on snow.

THE SPORT

The sport of Sled Dog racing is huge in Europe and Alaska. The annual Iditarod Sled Dog race from Anchorage to Nome, a distance of 1049 miles, is perhaps the most well known. It traces the route used in 1925 to transport serum during the famed diphtheria outbreak. The Iditarod, which is in its twenty-sixth year, attracts phenomenal crowds and is the event of the year in Anchorage, with the whole community supporting the Mushers and their team of up to sixteen dogs.

In Australia, the demand for Sled Dog racing on snow led to the development of the ADVANCE Sled Dog Challenge in 1994, the first and still the only Sled Dog race on snow in this country.

The ADVANCE Sled Dog Challenge is hosted by the Dinner Plain based Altitude 5000 Sled Dog Group Inc. Founding members of the Group and coordinators of the Challenge, Sue Simmons and Robert Stevens, have been instrumental in the sports development in Australia, instigating and organising the hugely successful ADVANCE Sled Dog Challenge. Both are thrilled at the popularity of the sport in Australia, which has rapidly grown in stature and size each year.

"It's tremendous to see that the sport's profile has increased here in Australia. In 1994 there were only fourteen competitors. With the addition of the Touring class race and the "Freight Pull" event there is a lot more challenge and excitement generating an ever increasing number of entries, last year was up with 81 individual sled dog teams however this year we have experienced a much greater interest and therefore expect competitor numbers to be again well up", Sue Simmons comments.

AUSTRALIAN SLED DOG RACING MAKING ITSELF KNOWN OVERSEAS

Australia's ADVANCE Sled Dog Challenge has generated much interest from clubs, participants and spectators from countries spanning across Europe, the United Kingdom, Finland, New Zealand and North America.

Well experienced in North American Musher and former Victorian Sleddog Racing Association President Mr Peter McCann has accepted an invitation to Race Marshall for the 2006 ADVANCE Sled Dog Challenge. Peter is passionately involved with sleddog racing in both Australia and North America, officiating in races such as Alaska's famous Iditarod, Canada's gruelling Yukon Quest and smaller sprint races across the USA has provided Peter a wealth of knowledge and experience. Peter has competed in past sleddog events at Dinner Plain and often comments "the tremendous High Country Village atmosphere and hospitality at Dinner Plain during the weekend of the dogs is sensational, in addition the spectator excitement, display of sportsmanship and care for dogs exhibited by Mushers at this particular event is second to none; in fact it's world class!" Says Peter.

THE RACE

The ADVANCE Sled Dog Challenge attracts competitors from all across Australia, and most recently New Zealand, where race conditions are considerably similar to those at Dinner Plain. The weekend's racing activities will feature classes for two, three, four and six dog teams. Teams will race across the many snow gum lined ski trails of Dinner Plain with the first teams leaving Dinner Plain Village at 09:00 each day of the event.

The skill level and ability of participating Mushers has increased dramatically resulting in longer race distances over recent years. This year, in keeping with the heightened skill of the Mushers, racing will feature a route spanning some 10 - 12km for the four and six dog teams, and a distance of 5-6km over which the two and three dog teams will compete. Races will be held in heats, with competitors winning on combined time scores over the two days.

THE DOGS

Weather conditions in Australia prevent many Mushers from training their dog team on snow. The alternative is dirt or sand. Training dogs for Sled Dog racing, Mushers work with their team early in the morning or late evening ensuring temperature is below 15 degrees Celsius. This is the maximum temperature specified by the RSPCA for working dogs with thick dense coats.

Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes are the most common breeds of dogs raced. They are strong competitors as snow is part of their natural habitat. The Siberian Huskies are quick on their feet; where as the Alaskan Malamutes are known for their endurance over long distances. In recent years, more unusual breeds have also competed including Labradors, Hounds and Shepamutes (a cross between German Shepherds and Malamutes).

WHAT TO EXPECT

Plenty of excited Sled Dogs and high volume dog noise. A colourful and electric atmosphere thick with competitor adrenalin. Spectators and media jostling for the best photographic vantage points. Fluoro vested Altitude 5000 Race volunteers directing traffic, crowds and dog teams into position. Sled Dog park (the race pits) - where all the Sled Dog teams are housed, sleds and race equipment assembled and Mushers tending their dogs. Mushers waxing sled runners, adjusting lines checking equipment and the die-hards re-checking their equipment. Onsite catering, snow dog breed information displays. More K9 athletes in the new Touring Class. Start and Finish chutes bathed in colourful sponsor's banners, pumped competitors, presentation and celebration.


Dinner Plain is the only Australian Alpine Resort where sled dogs are allowed to race and then it is only for this weekend under strict permit conditions. Spectators are most welcome, but it is stressed that dogs not competing be left at home.