Rossland’s Dana Luck cinches a belt around his hips, then attaches the lead end to a harness wrapped around a lithe and eager canine – a greyhound and german-shorthaired pointer mix.
In a flash, the pair are kicking up dust running down a logging road east of Nancy Greene Lake in pursuit of a dream to make it to the World Skijoring Championship this winter.
Luck is concentrating on his first International Federation of Sledding Sports (IFSS) Skijoring World Championship, held in Haliburton, Ont. in January, 2017. He and his skijoring team of one to four dogs will forego many of the smaller races he ran in past years, when he was ranked as high as number-one skijorer in Canada by the International Sled Dog Racing Association (ISDRA).
“This winter I don’t know how much I’ll actually race,” said Luck. “I have two weeks to get to Ontario for the world championship so it adds up. The dryland is new to me, I’ve always focused on the one and two dog (skijoring), but I made it to the dryland (world) championship last year and that was a start.”
Like most winter athletes, dryland training is a necessity for any skijoring team. The skijorer is a cross-country skier harnassed to a single dog or team of dogs, much like dogsledding.
But dryland racing too has developed into its own unique sport, and a competitive realm where dryland racing with a scooter pulled by one to eight dogs is as thrilling as any dog-sled race.
Luck also took up canicross where handler and canine work in tandem, tethered together in a cross-country running race.
Last year Luck finished ninth in Bristol, Que. in the two-dog scooter event at the 2015 IFSS World Dryland championship, and intends to return to the dryland world championship in November, 2017. But before then, the Courtenay native will drive across the country with four of his best dogs to face the world’s elite skijorers in Haliburton.
“The next big dryland I’ll do is hopefully in Poland in 2017,” said Luck. “It doesn’t cost me any more to fly there than to drive across Canada, but they are both a huge cost.”
Skijoring, dryland racing, and canicross aren’t exactly house-hold sports in western Canada and the US, but they attract a following in eastern Canada and are hugely popular in Europe. Luck is intent on training as hard as possible so that he can compete with the best in the world, but keeps his expectations in check.
“Europe, it’s like cycling, we can’t compete with them, it’s the same thing as dog sledding,” said Luck. “Unless you live there and race against them all the time it’s hard to compete. My goal for the worlds, it would be amazing to finish second or third, it probably won’t happen but I’d like to be top one or two in North America, that’s a more realistic goal.”
A top-10 finish would satisfy the Big Red Cat Skiing employee, but he also realizes he’ll need to put in more time training on the skis when the snow falls.
“I’m fairly new to skate skiing, so I have to get some private lessons this year. You start doing the nine-mile one-dog stuff, there’s guys that can ski around there faster without their dogs, the guys from Norway, so how do you compete with that, their dogs aren’t getting tired like mine so it makes a big difference.”
The 36-year-old Luck recently acquired three greysters (greyhound-pointer mix) pups from world champion bloodlines that he’ll rely on for the power and speed in his one, two, and four-dog events. Part of the dryland training is to get handler and dog in sync, so that power, speed, and endurance can be maximized.
Discipline is also vital and skijoring dogs are taught the classic dog sledding commands, and, in order to participate in races, the dogs must be taught to pass or be passed by other teams without interfering with them. An overly friendly attempt by one dog to stop and greet another team passing at high speed can be as problematic as a dog that attempts to nip other dogs in passing. A top skijor racing team can pass other teams head-on, without even turning to look at them.
For his team, the goal is longterm, and for Luck the passion for his dogs and the will to compete, and compete well is obvious.
“My goal is to get a medal, eventually, but it’s one of those things where partly I have to convince myself it’s possible, otherwise it’s not possible – so I am trying and putting 120 per cent into it everyday.”
To support Dana and his team in their quest for the World Championship go to www.gofundme.com/26p3muxw.