Featured in the Nov/Dec 2010 Issue:During the winter of 2010, dog trails in the northern Saskatchewan forest were alive with dog teams running three races of various lengths. The La Ronge Neckbone is a 110 mile race run in mid January, the Canadian Challenge is a 320 mile race run in February and the newest race is the Torch River Run a 210 mile race run in March.The first race is the La Ronge Neckbone, a ten-dog two-day stage race of approximately 55 miles each day in mid-January. Both days of the race are run on sections of the Canadian Challenge race trail. The race starts on a Saturday morning in the village of Stanley Mission that is situated along the Churchill River, which has seen dog teams since the days of the fur trade. The trail runs on a number of small lakes and over portages and then onto Lac La Ronge, a very large lake with dozens of islands. The islands give nice protection from any wind and make for some beautiful scenery. You work your way through the islands and into the town of La Ronge for the day one finish. The day one trail is quite flat with only a few hills on some of the portages. There is always a good meal provided after all teams are in and a chance to visit with fellow mushers and relax.Day two starts just south of La Ronge and runs through the forest for approximately 55 miles with more hills than day one and only two lake crossings. The finish line is in the village of Weyakwin where they host a very nice supper for everyone before the awards presentations. Snow conditions and trail are usually in good shape. This is a well-run race and an excellent warm up for the Canadian Challenge.The next race on the calendar is the Canadian Challenge Sled Dog Race and is the premier mushing event in Saskatchewan. It is a 12-dog 320 mile continuous race and is an Iditarod and Quest qualifier.The race starts on Central Avenue in the city of Prince Albert in the third week of February. The teams run down the street for a few blocks and then across the North Saskatchewan River and north through a few miles of mixed forest and fields and then into the Boreal forest. The trail goes through a couple of resort villages and across a few small lakes and into the first checkpoint of Anglin Lake (50 miles) where food and water and a place to rest can be found. From Anglin Lake to the next checkpoint of Elk Ridge a distance of twenty miles, you are on all groomed snow machine trails through forest and hills. At Elk Ridge hot water is available for mushers. From Elk Ridge the trail is on a groomed snow machine trail again for about twelve miles and then turns north on to the well-prepared Challenge trail and up to the next checkpoint at the village of Weyakwin, 48 miles from Elk Ridge. From Weyakwin the trail works its way through a few miles of forest and then onto Montreal Lake for a 6 mile crossing. Then more forest trail until Molanosa Lake for a 3 mile crossing and then up the shore and into the checkpoint at L.T.’s Bear Camp with modern lodge, good food and a place to sleep. Distance from last checkpoint 20 miles. Now the trail continues through the forest for about forty miles and then out onto Lac La Ronge where it runs on the lake for approximately twenty miles and into the town of La Ronge for the next checkpoint. Distance from last checkpoint is 60 miles. There is an 8 hour mandatory rest that must be taken at or before the La Ronge checkpoint. From the checkpoint at La Ronge teams go back onto the ice for about twenty miles and then portage to Lynx Lake and into that check point, approximately 28 miles from La Ronge. This is a tent camp not accessible by vehicle, but the crew really does a good job for the mushers, supplying hot water, straw, hot food and coffee. From Lynx Lake the trail goes across a number of small lakes and portages until reaching the Churchill River and the community and checkpoint of Grandmothers Bay. Distrance from previous checkpoint is about 30 miles.This section of the trail has some of the best scenery of the race. Food and water and a place to sleep are all provided at this checkpoint. From Grandmothers Bay the trail continues following the Churchill River, portages and lakes for 20 miles where you come up off the river ice into the village of Stanley Mission check point. More excellent food and hospitality and a place to sleep await you here. At this checkpoint here is a five hour mandatory rest. After the five hour mandatory rest teams travel about 53 miles to the finish line back into the town of La Ronge.On Sunday morning there is an awards breakfast held in the La Ronge Motor Inn. There is good entertainment hearing mushers’ stories of trail experiences.The trail is excellent, well prepared and well marked. The Canadian Challenge has a dedicated team of volunteers who put together a world class race to be proud of. Running in conjunction with the 12-dog race is an 8-dog race of 200 miles and also a junior race of 70 miles, both running the same trail as the 12-dog race. These two races are organized and run by the Canadian Challenge organization.There have been a number of mushers who have run the Iditarod or Yukon Quest and have run the Canadian Challenge as one of their qualifiers. Several have said that it is a great preparation for either of the big races and has many similarities. The Canadian Challenge in 2011 will be running for its 14th year, it has a good purse and is well run.The Torch River Run is the third distance race in Saskatchewan and the newest of the three. It is a ten-dog, 210 mile continuous race run in early March. The entire race is run on groomed snowmobile trails. Starting in the northern village of Christopher Lake at 7:30 pm and running north for ten miles, mushers then head north east past Candle Lake and up to the summer resort of Piprel Lake, which is the first checkpoint of the race. Distance from start is 80 miles. Up to this point the trail has been quite flat with only gentle hills.From Piprel Lake the trail takes you into some very challenging hills and jackpine forest for 50 miles to the checkpoint at Lower Fishing Lake. There is an 8 hour mandatory rest here with food and water and a place to roll out a sleeping bag, all in the fish and game hall. After leaving the check point you run over the Narrow Hills, which is the second highest point east of the Rocky Mountains. There is great scenery and a nice trail for 40 miles to the check point at River Trail Country Vacation Lodge. Food, shelter and great hospitality can all found here.From here the country is more flat, through mixed forest and then an old burn and finally to the high bank of the Saskatchewan River. Then the trail goes down onto the river ice and across to the finish at the resort village of Tobin Lake. Distance from previous checkpoint is 40 miles.There they put on a nice awards banquet in the Shore Bird Inn. This is a very enjoyable race with perfect trails, beautiful scenery and great people. The race is well organized and efficiently run, and in 2011 will be a qualifier for the Iditarod and Yukon Quest.If you like running dogs on good trails through forests, lakes, and unspoiled wilderness, then these three races are for you. The people in the checkpoints and along the way are some of the countries finest and Saskatchewan’s legendary hospitality really shows. If you come from far away and wish to come to these races, we’ll find a place for you to stay with other mushers.My message and invitation to mushers is: “Come to Saskatchewan and run our triple crown.” •


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