Since 1929 dog sled races have been held on the shores of Lake Opechee in Laconia, New Hampshire. Billed as the World Championship Dog Sled Derby sponsored by the Lakes Region Sled Dog Club, the event draws mushers from all over New England as well as Michigan, Minnesota and Québec, Canada. Over the three days of the derby there are races of six dog sleds, three dog sleds and sleds being pulled by only one dog. The race distance varies from about 100 yards for the one dog sleds for young mushers between ages 2 and 10 to the big teams that run over 12 miles in about 35 minutes. Seventeen years ago, Justin Fortier, was one of those 10 year olds taking up the sport. His first competition was when he was 12. Today at 27, he is a veteran of many races all over the cold regions of North America and has a 2015 world championship title to his credit. A native of Saint Raymond, Québec, his life revolves around his dogs and his sleds. When he is not competing, he is conducting sled dog tourism near his home not far from Québec City. He travels with a competition team of 16 dogs but has 61 dogs in total. Many are pups who are waiting their turn to hit the trails as they mature. Justin begins training the pups when they are less than a year old on short runs. He also breeds sled dogs, at his CalvinTess Racing Kennel, for other mushers. Sled dogs are not a unique breed but a cross of Alaskan Malamutes and other dogs and are trained to be competitive animals. Malamutes and huskies are best for endurance races but these dog are specifically bred for sprint races. To mushers their lead dog is invaluable. They train the lead dog to understand the many commands needed on the trail. While today sled dogs are used mainly for sport, for over a 1000 years they were used as a main means of transport for people living in far northern regions.
Former World Champion musher, Justin Fortier of St Raymond, Québec excited to get his team of dogs on the trail.
Justin’s dogs ready to run. He applies zinc oxide to the pups paws to help protect them from the 12 miles of digging into ice and snow.
Even after 12 miles of running, the dogs are giving their all as they approach the finish line.
No matter where they place in the standings, Justin makes sure his dogs know he appreciates their effort.