Albertans wearing skis were pulled by trained sled dogs during the province’s first-ever sanctioned skijoring and sprint sled race competition this weekend in Red Deer.
Twenty-four people from across the province competed in the Alberta Amateur Harness Dog Sports-sanctioned event at River Bend Golf and Recreation Area. While this was the first sanctioned race, it was the second straight year Eric and Cat Touche hosted this event at the venue in late February.
“Skijoring is cross-country skiing with a belt and harness attached to a sled dog. Traditionally it’s one or two dogs, but in the racing world you can run up to three,” explained Eric Touche.
“The sprint sleds is dog sledding with small teams and very light sleds.”
Skijoring is “an absolute blast,” Eric Touche noted.
“I’m a downhill skier and I haven’t been to a ski resort in two years because of how much I love skijoring,” he said.
The married couple has worked in the guided dog tour industry for 25 years. With Skijoring, it’s a way to ensure a dog gets exercise, Cat Touche noted.
“Our focus is to get your average dog owner out and exercising their dog,” Cat Touche said.
Eric Touche added: “People with athletic dogs, we’re trying to get them to exercise their dogs the way they should exercise. If your dog’s on a leash it can’t lope. If your on wheels or skis, it can go whatever speed it wants, but it’s still on leash so you can stay in control.”
The two say they want skijoring to become more well-known in the Red Deer area.
“We’re trying to expose the sport in Red Deer so it’s more centralized. This is a convenient place for people to travel to, whether you’re coming from the north or the south,” Eric Touche said.
“This is the very first time Alberta’s had a sanctioned race. We’re trying to bring the racing up to the standard that exists in Quebec and Ontario. Our people go down there to race, why shouldn’t their people come down here? We’re trying to get to the level where it’s attractive to them to race in Alberta.
“Just like in cross-country or downhill ski racing, the competitors earn points. There’s a world cup competition and world championship once a year – usually it happens … in Scandinavia.”
They hope to add more sanctioned events in the future, Cat Touche said.
During the summer, people can try things like bikejoring to get a similar experience to skijoring, Cat Touche added.
“It’s a year-round thing where people can get out, enjoy it and have a good time, while being able to talk to other dog people,” she said.