The 14th-annual Itsago dog sled races were held earlier this month in Enterprise.
And Chaal Cadieux, one of the organizers, said it was an “awesome” event again this year.
“We always have a lot of fun,” he said. “The volunteers have a lot of fun. It’s awesome seeing the dogs and then you get to know the mushers.”
Cadieux noted that, over the 14 years of the event, many of the same mushers have competed every year.
In fact, he noted over that time some of the children of racers have grown up and now have dog teams of their own.
This year’s event on April 7 and April 8 featured 10-dog and six-dog competitive races.
Cadieux explained that a race is held each day for the teams.
“You combine the first day and the second day times to get the fastest overall,” he said. “That’s how you end up winning.”
There were seven teams in the 10-dog races and eight teams in the six-dog category.
Each team won a cash prize. The top prize for the 10-dog race was $900, while the top prize for the six-dog event was $500.
This year, racers came from Fort Providence, Hay River, Fort Smith, Fort Resolution and Fort Chipewyan, Alta.
Along with the competitive races, Itsago features one-dog and two-dog fun races for children.
Cadieux said, when the races started in 2004, it was partly because musher Anthony Beck of Hay River wanted to it to be part of a circuit of races in the South Slave.
“And we bought into it,” Cadieux said of the idea, noting there are now races in Fort Resolution, Fort Smith and Fort Providence, on the Hay River Reserve, and in Fort Chipewyan, Alta.
“Now there’s a whole circuit right in the territories,” he said.
Cadieux said one of the things that makes the Itsago races special is its racing trail.
“Every year we’re a little bit more efficient at making our trail,” he explained.
Cadieux said the 14-km trail is quite a piece of infrastructure.
“It takes a lot of trial and error,” he noted. “And you build up a group of volunteers that can build something that big.”
Paul Flamand – who describes himself as the “trail smasher” – said the trails are getting better every year.
“All the mushers are saying this is the best they’ve ever ran,” Flamand noted.
“We spend the whole winter building our trail right from when it snows the first day,” he added. “We keep them packed and we drag them all the time.”
Flamand said the trail this year was the best ever for Itsago.
Cadieux said the key to a successful race is to have a good trail that is safe for the mushers and their dogs.
“Once you get those fundamentals down, then you can start building your race,” he said. “We can put more into the fundraising and building a bigger purse. But if you don’t have your fundamentals done, you don’t want to push yourself beyond your limits.”
Cadieux said he believes all the pieces are in place for Itsago to grow in the future.
The race is sponsored by the Hamlet of Enterprise and run by a group of volunteers.
Cadieux, who is a councillor with the Hamlet of Enterprise, is also the timer for the Itsago races.
The name of the race originated because it was initially held in December and there was concern if there would be enough snow at that time of year.
Cadieux recalled that people would always say, ‘If there’s snow, it’s a go.’
“And eventually we just called it the Itsago.”