Sled Dog Association of Scotland celebrates 25th anniversary

FROM humble beginnings launched by three enthusiasts in 1990, the Sled Dog Association of Scotland has come a long way in its 25 year history.

Huskies pull a sled near Loch Morlich in the heart of the Cairngorms. Picture: David Cheskin/PA

The organisation has grown leaps and bounds in the last quarter of a century, and the latest international event on the sled dog calender will attract over 100 teams to the Highlands.

While Scotland now boasts a wide range of age groups participating in sled dog racing, organisers are inviting eager young fans to come along and speak to the experienced mushers in a bid to bring even more young blood to the sport.

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SDAS is hosting the international race at Eagle Brae Lodges luxury self catering village in Inverness-shire this coming weekend.

Eagle Brae Lodges nestle in one of Scotland’s most beautiful glens and offers some spectacular views, providing an ideal venue for the International Federation of Sled Dog Sports national qualifying race.

The two-day event, which is open to both members and non-members of SDAS, will allow competitors from across the UK and further afield the opportunity to qualify for the European Championship Dryland event, organised by the British Sled dog Sports Federation, to be held in Thetford, England, in 2016.

Race organisers, Tobias Leask of Leask Racing Sled Dogs, and Rob Morley have spent many weeks working on the course and choosing the route, to make sure it delivers an interesting and captivating trail so desired by the competitors.

Mr Leask said: “Although the course is flat it offers a few challenges for the teams with twists, turns and a small bridge crossing, which will be enjoyable both for the dogs and handlers.

“Teams ranging from one dog to as many as eight will get the chance to give it their all around the Eagle Brae trail, which has been specifically adapted for sled dog tours. The three-miile, all grass, trail is in perfect condition for the canine competitors’ paws.”

He said the association has grown substantially in the last 25 years, adding: “When I started most of the races were abroad.

“But over the years it has gone from strength to strength, and the association has more than 300 members now. The age range goes from children competing to the oldest guy who is in his 80s.

“It is the fastest growing winter sport in Europe.

“It is a lifetime sport and becomes a lifestyle. I started when my wife bought be a husky. Then we bought more, faster dogs and it grew from there. We now have 44.”

Because of the association, sled dog racing has become more accessible and the UK now has over 1,000 teams.

Around 120 of those are heading north to the Highlands this weekend.

With a small log cabin on site, spectators can watch the action packed races unfold across the open trail.

After a day of racing on Saturday the mushers will gather together, around a bonfire, on Saturday evening and enjoy a meal, and following the second day of racing, Sunday evening will see the race winners receive recognition at an award ceremony.

SDAS Chairman, James Smith says “It’s a fantastic opportunity for SDAS to host this event. We hope everyone who attends has a great weekend racing, and that our members do well and qualify for the opportunity to represent Scotland at the European Championship Dryland event in 2016”.

Mr Leask added: “This is a great opportunity for anyone who would like to become involved in the sport to speak to experienced competitors.”

It was in 1990 when three people from Auchterarder, with a passion for Spitz Breeds and related sled dog activities, got together to discuss the whole sled dog scene in Scotland.

Neil Brown, owner of Alaskan Malamutes since the early 60s, and Rick and Keron Miller, novice owners of Malamutes and Siberian Huskies since 1988, recognised the need to promote the pursuits of sled dogs and put Scotland on the sled dog event map.

At that time there was no recognised sled dog organisation in Scotland.

Like the government, everything was organised “down South” aside from the big Siberian Husky Club of Great Britain event at Aviemore every January.

Residents north of the border could only gather in informal groups, on the occasional Sunday, take the sled dog teams out and then go home.

The Sled Dog Association of Scotland was the first Scottish specific body to put together a calendar of events in Scotland which have included novice sled dog workshops, invited guests from sled dog kennels in the US, seminars on nutrition, weight pulls, long and short distance racing/trekking events and many more informal events including agility competitions and barbecues.

The recent years, SDAS became the provisional member federation for the UK within the IFSS, and is proud to have been fundamental in the development of the British Sleddog Sport Federation.

History was made in the 2013/14 race season as SDAS hosted the very first IFSS sanctioned World Cup event ever to be held in the UK.