Ivakkak race off to fast start
15 teams, 180 dogs head up the Hudson Bay coast
The starting flag went down on the 12th edition of the Ivakkak dog team race in Kuujjuaraapik on March 18.
About 180 dogs pulled 15 seasoned teams, most of them driven by returning competitors, past the starting line in the coastal community on Hudson Bay.
A race trail of 632 kilometres along the bay coast, threading nearby the communities of Umiujaq and Inukjuak, lies before them.
The race will finish in Puvirnituq in time for the community’s Snow Festival, which takes place March 25 to March 30.
The festival’s celebration of Nunavik Inuit traditions will include the Ivakkak victory celebration, in which race winners collect prizes from Makivvik Corp. and a dozen more sponsors, including the Fédération des Coopératives du Nouveau-Québec, Canadian Royalties and Marché Turenne.
Last year’s top team earned a cash prize and gift certificate amounting to more than $24,000, and a pair of return tickets to Montreal from First Air.
Veteran mushers Peter Kiatainaq and son Peter Jr. are this year’s team to beat, having won the race six times, including last year.
The father and son team are up against several rivals and previous winners who will try to make the most of their experience gained over the past decade.
Among the returning mushers: a father and daughter team — Noah Ningiuruvik and Minnie Ningiuruvik of Kangirsuk, who is also the sole young woman among the competitors.
Race officials include Johnny Oovaut, the race marshall, six other officials and an 11-member support crew.
All dogs taking part in the race are trained pure-bred huskies, which must pull traditional Nunavik-style sleds.
Race rules spell out vaccinations and other specifics on dogs and equipment that racers must use.
The race’s finish-line in Puvurnituq, timed to take place during the Snow Festival, held every two years, fits well with the Ivakkak’s goal of preserving a dog-teaming tradition in Nunavik.
Sled dogs “were once essential to the survival of Inuit in the merciless arctic environment,” states the Ivakkak website, “a foundation of the Inuit nomadic way of life. These brave allies were central to seasonal Inuit movements, especially in the winter.”
Since starting out, mushers have been racing in sunny weather and seasonal temperatures ranging from about -10 to -30 C prevailing along the northbound trail.
If the ideal conditions continue, organizers expect racers will be able to finish well within the event’s 10-day time frame, and arrive in Puvurnituq in time for the height of the Snow Festival.
Racers were making steady progress on the second day, March 19, well ahead of schedule.
For updates on Ivakkak, you can visit the race’s website and leave messages for them.
“Good luck to all dog teamers,” was the message posted by Levi Amarualik of Puvirnituq. “We will see you soon.”