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Things heat up for Snow Motion racers

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Take a dog or two, skis or a kick sled, leashes, poles and the kind of harness used for rock climbing and what do you have?

For snow motion enthusiasts in the Winnipeg area, the gear and the dogs add up to a day of whipping through snow and a lot of laughter with their pets.

On Sunday, this unique race brought dozens of families and their dogs together to race on a five-kilometre trail at Bird Hills Provincial Park for the sixth-annual Snow Motion Classic.

The sport got its start 15 years ago as part of the Festival du Voyageur and it's grown to the event now held every winter at Birds Hill.

"You go like a bat out of hell and it's very fast and a lot of fun and there are a lot of people who are dog owners who are looking for exercise," contender Lorne Volk said explaining the appeal of the event as he timed several heats.

Heat's a good way to describe the sport. Organizer Susie Strachan spun in on the heels of her two border collies at the finish line, leaned over to unhook her skis and said, "It was hot out there. There's so much snow out there, you can't tell anyone's been on the trail."

Fat flakes turned to steady snow on the mild day as the 49 teams in nine classes raced for bragging rights in the contest that takes a sure foot on the trail and a strong arm to keep the pets in line.

"it's all about the dogs," yelled out another contender as stopwatches clocked times at the finish line.

For veteran racers like Steve Diamond, who finished first in one of the heats, the day went down as a personal best in six years of running with his dogs. "I broke my record this time, by a couple of seconds," said a grinning Diamond. At 12:59, that amounts to a winner in this circle.

Askem is a two-year-old Alaskan Malamut and at 125 pounds, he outweighed most of the Labradors, border collies, shepherds and mutts that pulled their owners on skate skis or kick sleds. His size singled him out; he was easily twice as big as any of the other dogs yesterday. But as a relative novice - some of these dogs have raced for years - his owners, Chris and Kirsty Kozie, are still training their towering giant.

These dogs quiet as they streak down trails in relative silence. That quality adds up to an added sense of adventure, sometimes startling wildlife from their winter dens on the trail.

"Sometimes you're rocketing down a trail when a deer runs across," Volk said. When that happens, it's pure joy for the pet owner and sometimes a burst of speed from the dog in hot pursuit of the unlucky wild animal.

It's the smaller dogs that can sometimes hit a stride through snow like a cheetah on an African savanna. Ike is an Australian shepherd and the pride and joy of the Hydesmith family. Father Brian and daughter Tannis swore they've clocked their dog at speeds of 45 km/h. Ike can't keep it up, of course, but those sprints make for fast races. "He's a sprinter," the dad said.

Ike, like many of the dogs, is a rescue animal. In other years, volunteers from the Winnipeg Humane Society have turned up for the race with some of their dogs.

The sport's attracted so many enthusiasts Winnipeg can now boast one of the larger clubs in the region. Kevin Roberts said he made the trek to a recent meet in Minneapolis with the Kozies and their dogs, including the giant Askem. There, Roberts learned the Manitobans can boast about something else: The Minneapolis meet was bigger than the one in Winnipeg, but not by that much. "We're the biggest one around," Roberts said with a chuckle.


Updated on Monday, February 18, 2013 at 10:23 AM CST: corrects mistakes

2:11 PM: fixes typo

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