Mushing around the Valcartier International Dog Sled Races

Photo: Lise Lafond

Simon Drouin, owner of Village Vacances Valcartier, competed in the unlimited dog category, the most spectacular of the races. Unlimited means any number of dogs can be used to pull the sled.

The fifth annual Valcartier International Dog Sled Races were held at Village Vacances Valcartier last weekend. Nothing was missing from the well-orchestrated event: the weather was beautiful, the scenery was spectacular, there was lots of snow, a food truck, plenty of parking spaces, games for the children, and the mascots Ti-Loup, Loulou and Louloutre entertained everyone. A musher (sled driver) was available to answer questions and distribute information about the races.

More than 150 teams of mushers and some 1,000 dogs came to compete at this prestigious race which would qualify some of them for the world championship.

At 11 a.m. the mushers and dogs were ready to go. During an ordinary trail ride, the dogs usually attain a speed of around 8 km/h, but during a race, they can reach speeds up to 25 km/h.

Behind the scenes I met up with a couple of mushers. Simon Hébert does this for a living; he is a musher at Aventure Inukshuk. He doesn’t feel it’s a job but more an extension of his passion. Hébert says his father had dogs and remembers being rocked to sleep by the movement of the sled. Simon started to race in 2016; it was an opportunity to train his dogs, but he started winning, which increased his desire to race.

His wife Sandie participated for the first time on Saturday. With a young child, she doesn’t have the time to train as much, but still enjoys harnessing up their dogs for a little run.

These dogs are bred to run. Many breeders have abandoned the husky and malamute breeds used for excursions, in favour of the Alaskan, which is a mix of German or English short-haired pointers, husky, and sometimes greyhound dogs. The result is a small, light-boned and mentally stable, eager-to-please dog.

One of these famous dogs was Mike, owned by Egil Ellis. He was said to have been as fast as Michael Johnson, a strong as Mike Tyson and could jump like Michael Jordan. Even though Mike the dog is long gone, with today’s technology his puppies continue to race. Carole Durand has dogs that have Mike’s bloodlines.

Dog sled races are fairly new to Valcartier, but it was always a popular sport in Quebec. I have found publicity dating from 1926 welcoming people to come and see the Dog Derby during Winter Carnival. Sled dogs were often used in the winter by Quebec families. In 1957, Alfred Abel founded the Stadacona Sled Dog Club which in 1972 became the Club d’attelages de chiens du Québec, the same organization that presented this event.

Simon Drouin, owner of the Village Vacance Valcartier, hopes that the sport will continue to grow and that Valcartier might host the World Cup in 2020 or 2021.

There were four different categories of races, the Sprint Class (with an unlimited number of dogs), Sprint with six dogs, Four dogs and a kicksled, Skijoring, and a Canicross discovery.