20 January 2015

Guest Post: Kelsy Gibos: Sled Dog Sport in Victoria, Australia

Have you met Kelsy? She is one crazy Canadian skijorer, who took her passion to skijoring, to a while new world!  Kelsy recounts her skijoring adventures from the land Down Under!  Turns out they have snow in Australia!  They even skijor!  Who knew, eh? 

Sled Dog Sport in Victoria, Australia

Although it sounds something akin to Jamaican bobsledding, sled dog sport is alive and kicking in the eucalyptus forests of Australia.  Teams gather from across the county to compete in sprint races on both snow and dirt.  Competitors run teams of malamutes, Alaskan huskies, Siberian huskies and hounds at internationally recognized races.  Teams run up to 10 dogs in size and folks compete other sled dog style sports including canicross and skijoring.

I was lucky enough to relocate from Canada to Australia for work in February of 2010.  My partner and I landed in the rural town of Ovens, Victoria which located at the foot of some of Australia’s highest mountain peaks (yes, there are mountains there and snow!).  We started our sled dog adventure by volunteering as handlers for a local sled dog touring company- Australian Sled Dog Tours. Brett Hadden and his collection of rescued Siberian huskies bring people who have never even seen snow on adventures of the sled dog variety.  Unfortunately many huskies find themselves homeless and unwanted one of the warmest climates in the world.  Brett takes them on, teaches them to pull and brings happiness to snow-seeking Aussies for the few months of the year that the white stuff flies.  We also fell into rescue quickly, and saved a brother-sister pair of puppies from a high kill shelter near Sydney.  Twigs and Trout are Australian Cattle Dogs crossed with Siberian Husky.  Brett’s team quickly helped us get our dogs into pull sports.

Photo: Twigs and Trout running in a 10 dog team in Dinner Plain, Victoria, Australia (they are the 4th pair from the front)

After that, we joined the Northern Victoria Sled Dog Club (NVSDC), where we attended heaps of training events and fun runs.  They helped us train Twigs and Trout to pull a kickbike and how to pass, run on by and the full experience of the race chute.  Club races were great for training, great for socializing (people and dogs!) and overall great fun. There were are several large, inter-state races organized by various clubs and managed by the main governing body (ASSA- http://www.assa.asn.au ).  Races took place in state forests.  All the mushers would camp together and the races would start first thing in the morning when temperatures were cool (there are very strict rules and temperatures and humidities that dogs are allowed to race in).  Most of the races were sprint style, ranging in distance from 2 to 7 km, depending on the size of the team.  Kickbikes are used up to 2-3 dogs and the bigger teams use 3 wheeled rigs that are often homemade  There were novice and junior events, along with opportunities to try canicross and bikejoring as well. 

This is us running in the 2 dog class at the Northern Victorian Sled Dog Classic

This POV video (to get a feel for the forest type and conditions) of me and Twigs during the race

Me with a muddy face running Twigs on the kickbike during a fun run event put on by NVSDC

Coming out of the pine plantation with Twigs and Trout at the Canberra Classic (Nationals).

Perhaps the most anticipated events in the sled dogging season are the snow races.  There are 2 races that Australian mushers can actually run sleds and slide on snow- one at Falls Creek (a ski resort) and one at Dinner Plain.  Here is a great media video showing some of the teams (look closely and you’ll see me!)  

A few folks were interested in trying skijoring, which used to happen at the snow races but had died out due to lack of participants.  So, Travis and I got geared up and started an Aussie skijor group.  We had heaps of competitors come forward, including Phil Freelander who had competed previously in Scandinavia with his German short-haired pointers.  Skijoring quickly became a crowd favorite and it was awesome to have so many folks cheering us on! 
Dinner Plain Sled Dog Alititude 5000 Challenge 2013 with Twigs and Trout (showing off with my hands in the air!)

Skijoring through Falls Creek Village during the Falls Creek Sled Dog Classic 2013

Travis and Trout (and a red beard) racing at Dinner Plain Altitude 5000 Sled Dog Challenge 2012
Kelsy and Twigs at the Dinner Plain Alititude 5000 Sled Dog Challenge in 2012 (we were ranked #2 in all of Australia!)
Although our time in Australia came to an end in 2014, we have heaps of magic memories and still keep in touch with many of our Aussie mushing buddies.  Here’s a link to a song my partner Travis wrote about our Aussie sled dog experiences.  We hope to go back someday and race.  Until then, we’ve been busy running the trails in our new home of Edson, Alberta.  There are lots of trails (groomed or natural) that we can explore with Twigs and Trout (our most expensive Australian souvenirs!).  Get out the kicksled and the skis!

Twigs and Trout and the kicksled at Willmore Wilderness Park near Edson Alberta

Skijoring in fresh snow (and -20 C).

To check out more of skijoring in Australia, check out the Facebook Group for the Aussie Skijor club!






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