Talking everything dog sledding

Paul Bickford/NNSL photo
Susan Fleck of Fort Providence was the co-chair of the 2017 NWT Sled Dog Symposium.

Thirty or so mushers gathered in Hay River over the weekend to talk about racing sled dogs.

They were participating in the 2017 NWT Sled Dog Symposium, believed to be the first gathering of its kind in Hay River.

“The whole purpose of a symposium is to exchange tips and ideas,” said Fort Providence’s Susan Fleck, a co-chair of the May 27 and 28 symposium. “So we’ve set the format up as a question and answer for the panels, and there’s time for people in the audience to ask questions or they talk about additional comments to what the panellists have said.”

Along with Hay River, the mushers came from Yellowknife, Fort Providence, Fort Smith and Fort Resolution.

They were joined by a number of speakers, including some notable Northern mushers and three famed racers from the United States – Roxy Wright of Alaska, Art Stoller of Minnesota and Lloyd Gilbertson of Michigan.

Fleck said the three special guests are legends in the dog-mushing world.

“And they’re mentors, as well,” she said. “They have over 100 years of experience sitting at the table.”

The symposium was organized by the Deh Gah Dog Mushers Club of Fort Providence for the NWT Dog Sledding Association, which received a government grant to run the event.

Fleck noted the NWT Dog Sledding Association asked that the symposium be held in Hay River.

“It’s a good idea to move it around to different places,” she said.

Fleck noted that such a symposium was held in Yellowknife in 2006 by the NWT Dog Sledding Association and one was held last year in Fort Providence.

Fleck, who has been a dog musher for five years, said all the participants at the Hay River symposium were dog racers.

She explained there are two kinds of sled dog racers – sprint racers who run dogs fast and usually on good trails for shorter distances up to 30 miles, and long-distance racers, who compete in events of from 300-1,000 miles and run at slower paces.

“But the puppies all need the same kind of socialization whether they’re sprint racing or long-distance racing,” said Fleck. “They still need the same kind of care. They still need the same kind of housing. Those are the things that are common to people who are sprint racing and long-distance racing, and also commands and things like that.”

The symposium also discussed how to get more young people involved in sled dog racing.

Gilbertson, who retired from racing several years ago, sees a lot of value in holding such symposiums.

“You get a chance to learn from some of the very best,” he said.

Wright also thinks the symposiums are valuable.

“Symposiums like this are a chance for people from different places to get together and visit and share information,” she said.

Hay River’s Andrew Cassidy, while not a dog racer himself, attended the symposium with his 13-year-old daughter Anna Cassidy, who is a musher.

“It’s a fun community to be part of and I always like to get together with the mushers when they’re here and see what I can pick up on,” he said of possibly learning some tips and training techniques.

Cassidy said it’s exciting to be a part of the sport.

“There’s a lot of tradition to it,” he noted. “There’s a lot of history to it, especially in the Northwest Territories.”

Fleck was asked why the symposium was held in May instead of in the winter.

“In the wintertime, you’re so busy training dogs you don’t have time to go to a symposium,” she explained. “This is one of the few chances that the mushers get to talk to each other and exchange tips and just kind of think about dogs.”