Thursday, February 17, 2011

Hockey Day in Canada hits Whitehorse

The crowds head over to the shinny rink by the SS Klondike
This year Hockey Day in Canada came to the Yukon Territory. February is celebrate winter month in Whitehorse - the Yukon Quest, the Available Light film festival, Frostbite music festival, the Yukon Ultra (nearly naked people running hundreds of kilometers through the Yukon bush) and Rendezvous winter festival (chain saw chucking, flour packing, can can dancing in snowshoes, Yukon specific sort of skills) and this year Hockey day piled in. We're all exhausted and its only mid-month.

Hockey day is actually more like a week. Early on Kluane National Park staff set up their hockey rink on the lake about 15 km out of town. With the rink in place the team anxious awaited teams to trounce.

The Zamboni cometh, 15 kilometres from town. (Parks Canada)

Further north in Dawson the Klondike Nuggets once again challenged the Ottawa Senators to another round of games with the same lop-sided but otherwise honourable result as they've had since their first Stanley Cup challenge in 1905.

The Yukon River hockey rink in Dawson.3,500 kilometers of arena parking. (Parks Canada)

The Governor-General (the one with the Gold skates of of course) hangs with the Nuggets in front of the net. (Parks Canada)
Although these prelude events were important the real action happened on Saturday noon on the shinny rink by the SS Klondike in Whitehorse. There the powerhouse teams of Parks Canada faced off with the Museum Monsters. Play was fast and I was amazed at how breathless you could get on a rink only 30 feet long.

The Hockey Cards - clipped and save for your collection.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Yukon Quest

The Yukon Quest, the sled dog race from Whitehorse to Fairbanks, Alaska, started today. For the next ten to fourteen days, twenty five mushers - 19 men and 6 women - will travel 1000 miles (over 1600 km) along frozen rivers and through the snow covered hills and forests of the Yukon River basin. The youngest is 21 and there are seven mushers over 50 years old. Each sled has 14 dogs.

With only one mandatory stop at Dawson City, about half way, they are otherwise camping out with their dogs every night. Today the temperature in Whitehorse was -15 C, almost too warm for the dogs, but as they head north they will feel better. Carmacks two days away is supposed to be -20 and Dawson five or six days out almost -30. They have to carry all their camp gear, dog feed, straw for dog bedding and replacement harnesses, dog booties and spare batteries for their headlamps, there's no lights on out there to set up camp.

This year the race starts in Whitehorse. We met with friends for an early breakfast in a downtown restaurant and exchanged stories. About 10:30 everyone in town heads down to the river bank to watch the mushers prepare their sleds and get their eager dogs hooked into harness. The parking lot is a squirming mass of barking dogs chained to their trucks, the sleds come off the roof of the box and are packed. Then, as race time approaches, each musher and his team of handlers and local volunteers lay out the harness rope and the dogs are brought out in one and twos and hooked onto the line. The dogs are wildly excited now, they've been training all winter for this run and they want to run!

Two nights previous we attended the Quest start banquet. Along with a slide show of past races, the first was in 1984, silent auction for everything from artwork to parkas to large quantities of dog food, a grand buffet dinner suitable for someone about to spend two weeks winter camping in the Yukon, the rest of us ate along in sympathy, and the recognition of the return of a injured veterinarian, the highlight of the evening was the draw for race starting positions. Each musher came up in turn, drew his tag from a fur hat and said a few words. Most acknowledged their sponsors, no one races sled dogs because there's money in it, a few wished their colleagues a good race, and all of them acknowledged their partners who were at home with the kids (and all the rest of the dogs - most have another 30 or 40 dogs and a couple have well over a 100) or out in the parking lot packing up groceries and supplies for the race.

The Quest relies on volunteers and the volunteers and the mushers rely on the Executive Director to keep everything on track. My old Parks colleague, Georgina, is the ED this year. Mahsi cho Georgina.
The first team heads for the start line. There's a quick count down and the dogs prance out of the gate. The sled and musher magically follow on behind, schuss quickly through the crowd stretched out for several hundred meters and then slide down onto the river ice and are gone... then the next, and the next, and the next until they've left us all behind. Before them the grandeur of the winter river and the quiet landscape of the Yukon.