Although the sport of sledding in NZ is very new, New Zealand has a very rich history of dogs and sledding through its association with the Antarctica.
It is well documented in the history Archives of the men and their dogs on their way to the ice and the time they spent here training. The two main areas they used were Quail Island in Lyttleton Harbour and an area known as Husky Flat in the Mt Cook region where 'ice' training was carried out on the Tasman Glacier Remains of kennels are still visible today.
The majority of these early dogs were without doubt based on the heavier freighting Greenland type huskies although there is some documentation that suggests that some Russian bloodlines passed through in about 1925. It is thought that the 1923 animals were Siberians, part of Admiral Bird's 1925 Pole expeditions.
The actual sport of sled racing as opposed to rig racing kicked off in New Zealand in 1991. John Wheeler and Robert Simpson both of Dunedin (and stalwarts of the Otago Sled Dog Club) and also Siberian enthusiasts had been involved in organising NZ's first rig race at Berwick Forest in 1984 or 85. Keen to see some actual snow racing they managed to secure access for a race on the Waiorau Snow Farm on top of the Pisa Range between Wanaka and Queenstown. In association with this event a seminar was held on Husky Racing with guest of honour being Natalie Norris of the famous Anadyr Siberian Kennels in Alaska.
This race was notable in that it was won by a visiting Australian musher Craig Wood. To date he is the only foreign musher to have competed at New Zealand snow races.
1992 did not have a snow race, but 1993 saw the start of regular snow races.
In 1993 the Otago club held a race at the Remarkables Ski field on a course that was rather steep and short on snow. Queenstown's Claus Caderas won this event and he repeated this the following year (1994) again at the Remarkables but with much more snow on the trails. The year 1995 is known for the infamous Lyford race. This race was organised by the South Island Siberian Husky Club as part of their Sled Dog Challenge Race on the weekend of July 22/23. Due to the shortage of sleds and the number of entries it was decided to do the race as two heats. The 2 and 3 dog teams left first. While this heat was racing a rather severe southerly storm front arrived and caused the evacuation of the mountain. Consequently heat 2, which was for the larger teams, had to be abandoned in the mayhem. Most people took 2-3 hours to get off the mountain to the Lyford Village with some taking up to 6 hours. Typical of spring weather the following day, Sunday, dawned bright and clean To this day some people still refuse to go up ski roads as a result of the Lyford experience.
Results of the race were:
|3 dog||Alan Hasell|
|2 dog||Bruce Brogden|
In 1996 two snow events were held. The first, on July 27 a race held by the South Island Sled Dog Sports Association. This was held on the Mt Dobson Ski field. Fastest times were Ray Holliday, Claus Caderas, and then Shane Kemp.
The Mt Dobson course was a quite demanding course but the positives are a good access road and a relatively uncluttered ski field. In some people's opinion it is a venue handy to Christchurch’s mushing fraternity that could be exploited more. This venue like Lyford has to date only been raced on once. Dobson however is known to have been used by a few mushers during the mid/late 90's as a private venue for mushing.
Toward the end of September 1996 what is now known as Wanaka Week began. It was again organised by the Otago Club and is a 3 heat race. Usually heat I Monday, heat 2 Tuesday or Wednesday, and heat 3 Thursday or Friday. Each heat and class winner is recognised but the major 'prizes' are for combined times over the three heats.
In 1996 and 1997 heats 1 & 3 were at the Waiorau Nordic Ski field (which later changed it's name to the Waiorau Snow Farm) with heat 2 at the Cardrona Ski field, the latter being another demanding course with similarities to Mt Dobson). By late September in 1996 the snow was receding quite quickly, however with keen mushers the soft patches were not an issue. The Wanaka Sled Dog Festival is now held late August/early September and affords much better snow and mushing.
Results for 1996 are:
|4dog||1st||Ray Holliday||Overall 1st|
|2nd||Claus Caderas||Overall 2nd|
|3dog||1st||Neil Harwood||Overall 3rd|
Results for 1997 are:
|4dog||1st||Claus Caders||Overall 1st|
|2nd||Ray Holliday||Overall 2nd|
|3rd||Bruce Brodgen||Overall 3rd|
1997 had in its field of mushers, running in the 2 dog class the first Junior to compete on snow.
In 1998 and 1999 two snow races were held on the Waiorau Snow Farm in early September The first was the Wanaka Sled Dog Festival with all three heats at the Snow Farm. 1998 also saw the introduction of a 6 dog class and a single dog Ski Jour class.
1998 results are:
|6dog||1st||DarrenWatson/Don Aldridge||Overall 1st|
|2nd||Ray Holliday||Overall 2nd|
|3rd||Bruce Brogden||Overall 3rd|
|3rd||Andrew McPhee/Hamish Flemming|
A Junior again competed in the 2 dog class.
The second snow race was held two days after the end of Wanaka Sled Dog Festival. This was the first 50km 3 stage race to be held on snow in the country, and is known as the Waiorau 50. This race requires mushers to carry survival equipment as per long distance NZFSS/IFSS race rules. Between each leg a mandatory 3 hour layover exists. For 1998 8 mushers took up the challenge with 7 completing the trail. Like the Lyford race of '95 heavy snow fell during the running of the race. Although the 2nd leg was delayed an hour and both legs 2 & 3 were shortened the race proceeded to a satisfactory conclusion. Five of the 8 mushers did 'extra' kilometres. As 7 of the 8 returned in 1999 it obviously did not affect their enthusiasm for the journey'.
In 1999 both the Wanaka Sled Dog Festival and the Waiorau-50 poceeded with results as follows: Wanaka Sled Dog Festival
|6dog||1st||Peter Dobbs||Overall 1st|
|2nd||Ray Holliday||Overall 2nd|
|4dog||1st||Darren Watson||Overall 3rd|
Waiorau- 50 results:
At the time of writing, planning is well underway for the running of the 2000 Wanaka Sled Dog Festival, which will feature two juniors, one in the 2 dog and one in the 4 dog class, and the Waiorau-50 race. This year a 35km race is to run in conjunction with the 50km race. Early planning however has the distance for the Waiorau-50 race to actually be closer to 62km.