Haliburton Forest welcomes the world this winter
By Darren Lum
Nov. 15, 2016
There is nothing like Canada’s 150th birthday to host the world, said Haliburton Forest project manager Tegan Legge.
Without any snow in Ontario, it doesn’t look it now, but the Forest is gearing up to host the biggest event it has ever held in its history with the 2017 International Federation of Sleddog Sports Winter World Championships from Jan. 23 to Feb. 1.
This nine-day race event, which is held every two years, will include more than a 1,000 dogs with 150 teams from 20 countries competing in 22 different classes of races such as skijoring and dogsled racing.
“What’s more Canadian than a dogsledding event? It’s a really cool way to celebrate that and bring people to the Forest and to showcase our trails. We have these amazing trails and this gives people an opportunity to check them out in a different way than snowmobiling,” she said.
Legge adds this was a great opportunity for not just international exposure, but also to host a unique event, which is what the property has prided itself with.
As an added incentive to competitors, this championship is offering a $40,000 purse for first to fifth finishers in every race except for the junior and relay races.
The list of competitors and where they’re from won’t be known until closer to the registration deadline on Dec. 19.
The start/finish area for races will be near the Forest base camp and spectators will be welcome to be there and down to the first turn. Spectators will also have a shuttle service available so that spectators can watch the races from the frozen MacDonald Lake, offering spectacular views, Legge said.
She adds this is the “Olympics” for dog racing. It will be more than just dog racing, as it will be like a “Winterlude of Haliburton Forest” that will include bonfires, a tobogganing hill, food vendors and a musher banquet.
“We want people to come and experience winter in Canada associated with this awesome event,” she said.
Admission is free. However there will be a nominal cost for the shuttle bus and for parking to cover the nine days. She said the Forest will be shut down, which includes access to snowmobile trails. The OFSC and past customers have been notified of trail closure. She adds the nine days actually don’t conflict with any corporate group bookings on the holiday weekend so the timing couldn’t have worked out better.
For the first time ever for the world championship every race will be held at one location. It’s something that makes Legge proud because in the past the event has required up to three locations.
Like the Olympics, this event will feature an opening ceremony with entertainment to be announced at a later date and a closing ceremony. It will be held outdoors in a heated tent close to the forest’s base camp and will enable spectators to get close to competitors.
Legge said in Europe this event is much bigger than here and draws close to 30,000 people on a weekend so conservatively believes this event could draw several thousand for a weekend.
This will depend largely on the coverage this event gets.
“Everybody knows about the Iditarod. Nobody can go to the Iditarod because it is so far away. Here’s this event that is two and half to three hours from Toronto that people can technically do in a day trip if they wanted to in their own backyard and have fully accessible to them,” she said.
Forest general manager Malcolm Cockwell said hosting this event fits in with the property’s past and current attractions.
“It speaks to the – over the last couple of decades – the ambition of this place to do remarkable things both for the community as well as the various sports and pursuits it believes in doing what nobody else is able to do, whether that was 10 years ago the submarine or now today the dogsled championships. It’s something remarkable that brings people to this part of the world to appreciate the resources we have,” he said.
Karen Koehler, dog racer and the person responsible for presenting the opportunity to Peter Schleifenbaum, owner to the Forest, couldn’t have smiled more hearing about the planning.
She loves being able to showcase a sport she loves and the relationship between its owners and the dogs.
“It’s really special. It’s such a great sport for dogs and people to go outdoors together and get off the couch and stay fit. For me that is the most important thing to emphasize and how much the mushers care for their dogs,” she said.
Koehler, a world championship veteran, adds this will be the first time she will compete in not only her home province, but just a short drive away. She has acted as a consultant to the Forest for this event and is also a director with the Canadian Association of Harness Dog Sports (CAHDS).
Unlike other sporting events, Koehler said in dog races there is a collegial atmosphere where everyone is looking out for one another, whether it is to give advice for a race or provide a place to stay. Racers also share a love for the sport, but also a passion for their dogs. She is looking forward to being reunited with friends and competitors she only sees when competing at world championships.
Legge said she was left so excited after seeing the seventh annual Bristol Dryland Canadian Championship Dog Race, which Koehler finished with a pair of third place finishes, that she wants to race and can see the Forest hosting the world again for the dry land championship since a lot of the hard work and connections have already been done. Canada is in line to host a dry land championship in six years.
The County of Haliburton had stepped up as a sponsor to this event, Legge said. In kind services have been made by Dr. Lowell Greib of Sports Lab in Huntsville, Parker Pad and Printing and Robert Sargent of Algonquin Electric. Legge said details are being finalized regarding major corporate sponsors.
She welcomes sponsors, as this will be an expensive endeavour. They are to notify sponsorship co-ordinator Wayde Greer of Digital Reno.
Legge said anyone interested in being a food vendor for the event can contact her.
All of the on-site staff will be working on the event for the nine days. There will be 20 to 40 volunteers needed each day of the event and this total could fluctuate according needs.
Among some of the positions include dog handlers, veterinarians and veterinarian technicians, food service attendants, checkpoint attendants, ushers for opening and closing ceremonies, and people with their own ATV to help guide dog teams to the start line.
For more information about the event see www.worlddogsleddingchampionships.ca, which also includes other details related to volunteering. Call Tegan Legge at the Forest for questions at 800-631-2198 or email the project manager email@example.com for more information.
Legge said this event isn’t just about Haliburton it’s about showcasing the province of Ontario.
“Haliburton Forest is a great company itself. We live in an amazing area and we have lots to showcase so I want this to be not just ‘myhaliburtonhighlands,’ but also an Ontario Highlands event so we can showcase our area and have people come back year after year,” she said.