Originally written for Dog World, www.dogworld.co.uk

Mushers from the length and breadth of the UK have been gathering in the forests around the Highland town of Aviemore since 1984. This year sees the 30th running of the world famous race which is the biggest event by far in the British sled dog racing scene.
Organised by the Siberian Husky Club of Great Britain in conjunction with Forestry Commission Scotland, the event has been sponsored for the last few years by dog food manufacturer Arden Grange. The race is run on trails around Loch Morlich, nestling in the shadow of the mighty Cairngorms.
The first race in 1984 saw just a dozen competitors but it is now the biggest gathering of sled dogs in the UK with more than 1,000 canine athletes, 200 dog drivers (known as mushers) and thousands of spectators.
Teams of between two to eight dogs pull their mushers on a sled around a four to seven-mile trail. When there is no snow on the ground, the racing goes ahead on rigs, three-wheeled devices that look a bit like chariots! There are eight adult classes and two for children with mushers, ages ranging from just eight years to over 60! The oldest musher of the weekend always wins a special award.
Everyone who runs Huskies at Aviemore secretly dances the snow dance ahead of this hugely popular event. It looked like the ‘weather gods’ had smiled again this year as most competitors arrived a couple of days before the big race to find a beautifully snow-covered trail at the stunning Glenmore Forest Park.
In the days that followed the temperature rose and fell, we had snow, we had rain, we had sleet but the hard-working organising team arranged for the trail to be pisted and constantly monitored it to preserve the snow cover.
Saturday was a beautiful Highland day; blue skies with a stunning clear backdrop of the Cairngorm Mountains. All the 191 teams went out on sleds and the many spectators enjoyed the thrills (and many spills) of some of the quickest Siberian Husky teams in the country racing on snow.
Spectators enjoyed watching the teams fly out from the start and many wandered around the huge field packed with vans, taking the chance to meet the dogs and mushers. The most unusual visitor at the event had to be someone’s pet cat, dressed for the cold in a puffa jacket and hood!
Unfortunately either we weren’t snow dancing hard enough or the weather gods decided we had all had much too much fun and Saturday evening saw increasingly warm temperatures and rain! The competitors arrived before first light on Sunday to prepare their dogs for the day’s racing with the sinking feeling that their canine athletes might be kicking up their heels rather than setting the trail on fire.
Sadly the snow-covered trail had turned to packed ice which could not be run safely and the organisers were left making the announcement no one really wanted to hear, but everyone understood, that the Sunday leg of the event had to be cancelled for dog safety reasons.
Normally the placings are decided on the combined time over both days but this meant the awards were based on Saturday’s run times. The fastest time of the event was a spectacular run by Martin Owen from Somerset with his four-dog team.
Aviemore is one of the few events in the UK to hold an eight-dog class which is a spectacular sight. This year’s event was won by Colin Stewart of Larkhall with Callum Paterson from Fife second and Somerset man Graham Good third.
The six-dog race was won for an amazing fourth year in a row by Pete Jones from Lincolnshire. Speaking before the event he said: “The first time I won the event it was on snow – it’s really different and so fast. I had such an adrenalin rush; it was amazing to do it as it should be done.” In second place was Craig Robertson from Newcastle and third was Gary Patterson from Lockerbie.
First in a hotly contested four-dog class was Martin Owen with Ian Muncaster of Bromyard in second place and Sheffield man Kev Spooner third. Martin Owen also topped the three-dog event with Karl Binns from Foyers in second place and James Smith from Airdrie third. The two-dog competition was topped by Stuart Hanson from Aberdeen with Alex Marvin from Leicester second and Kevin Hale from Gloucester third.
The Juniors aged from eight to 15 also went out fearlessly on sleds on Saturday. This takes more than a bit of nerve for mushers of any age, considering not many of us have a lot of experience running on snow in the UK. The junior event also was able to go ahead on Sunday morning as their shorter part of the trail was still snow (or rather slush) – covered.
Junior mushing is split into two age categories. The older class saw Jessica Wright in first place with Hannah Jones second and Brandon Bailey third. Marco Ezzi won the younger age group with Joseph Le Fevre second and Ryan Sanford third.
Siberians are not the only purebred sled dogs competing at Aviemore. There are also classes for Alaskan Malamutes, Canadian Eskimo Dogs and Samoyeds.
The winners of the freight classes were: B2 Alan Ballantine, C2 Darren Lefevre, E2 Lorraine Lefevre and D2 Alan Ballantine.
For those of us who aspire to a mushing lifestyle, Aviemore is the chance to live the dream, at least for a week or so.
It’s fantastic to attend a big event that really feels like a big event, rather than just another race weekend. For a start there’s the massive public interest. When you race your dogs, it’s generally hard drumming up much excitement among non-doggy family or work colleagues and if you’re lucky you might get a “did you win then?” on Monday morning.
Aviemore is very different from the average race. People travel for miles to come and watch the racing, take pictures of the dogs, soak up the atmosphere and chat to the mushers. There are reporters, photographers and often TV cameras. You feel privileged to be taking part in something that other people are following with interest.
Although the racing is on Saturday and Sunday – like most rallies – the event lasts for a week. Start times are drawn randomly on the Friday night so there is always a real buzz about who is out after whom, we find out for the first time whom we’re racing against in our classes and, of course, the banter begins.
Most of us dream about being able to visit shops and outfitters selling sled dog equipment which are usually only to be found in the dog-running centres of North America. The annual musher’s market means we can actually get our hands on the kit we usually only get mail order. It can’t only be me who finds something very exciting about seeing racks of harnesses and lines!
As well as the race itself, there is a longer distance trek which takes in 11 or so miles of stunning Highland scenery at a more gentle pace as well as a test of strength – the weight pull – which is dominated by the Alaskan Malamute but also shows off the sheer pulling power of many Siberians.
Aviemore is also our holiday, the chance to get away with your dogs and enough kit to make you think you’re moving to Alaska. Where Sibes can be Sibes and no one is going to moan at them expressing themselves in true Husky fashion and howling, where you can talk dogs without boring anyone and yes, where you can feel like you’re living the dream before you go back to the reality of fitting the dream into something like a normal nine-to-five life!
Aviemore isn’t just special to the competitors. “I cannot begin to explain how exciting it is to be involved in the world famous Aviemore sled dog rally,” explains Sarah Robinson, of Team Aviemore, the event’s hard-working organisers. “The logistics of running an event, double in size of anything else in this country, over nearly a week, while being 700 miles away from home is a challenge, which although it brings insomnia, is extremely satisfying.
“My co-organisers and the other members of Team Aviemore work extremely hard, but also use the time away to enjoy themselves in some of the prettiest scenery in the country. What other event allows you to spend a holiday, doing what you love, with 200-plus friends each year!
“In our seven-year tenure of the event we are really proud to have constantly listened to what the mushers want and improved every aspect of the event that we could. Possibly our proudest moments, apart from the fact this is the 30th running of the event, was the fact we were able to send off teams, faultlessly, on sleds twice in the past four years. I would challenge that no other team of organisers in the country could have achieved that.”
More the £1,000 was raised for Siberian Husky Welfare over the weekend