Star Staffer Neil McKay gets up-close with sled dogs in the French Alps
Star staffer Neil McKay is on sabbatical from the sports desk and spending the winter in the French Alps with his family. His daughters are working hard at the local public school in Samoens, his wife is working hard on her French. McKay? He’s skiing every day and eating a lot of cheese. Here’s his latest Postcard from the Alps.
MEGEVE, FRANCE — Some of France’s top ski resorts have really gone to the dogs – huskies to be exact.
La Grande Odyssee, a 12-day 1,000-kilometre sled dog race through the French Alps, attracts the top mushers from across Europe. Last Thursday the dogs raced from Les Saisies to Crest Voland, two beautiful little resorts in the Espace Diamant ski area, before finishing up here in this famous old resort to contest the Megeve Challenge, a five-kilometre dash in the evening that started and finished at the hockey rink, the Palais des Sports.
Since Megeve is less than an hour from Samoens, where we are spending the winter, we collected our daughters from school at 4:30 and headed for Megeve. After a quick stop at McDonalds for a Le McFarmer and a Le Big Mac, we simply followed the sound of barking dogs to the rink. Who needs GPS when you have 300 dogs to lead the way?
The event this year has been plagued by warm weather and terrible snow conditions. The race involves 25,000 metres of elevation change and the dogs are spending more time than usual this year coping with a steep terrain covered in ice and rocks. Some of the mushers pulled out on Wednesday, including defending champion and race leader Emil Inauen of Switzerland, citing unsafe conditions for their dogs and poorly marked trails.
The news may have been troubling for race organizers but it certainly didn’t dampen the spirits of a few thousand fans on hand Thursday to cheer on the dogs and mushers.
As the participants prepare for the day’s stage, spectators are free to roam among the teams and talk to the mushers and handlers. But, of course, it’s the dogs who are the stars of the show, calmly posing for pictures like old pros. Each musher is allowed 14 dogs but only six are used at a time. Some of the dogs left on the sidelines act like Terrell Owens when he doesn’t get enough balls thrown his way – lots of yapping.
“He’s not happy,” says a handler for one of the French mushers of a particularly agitated Siberian. “His brother is racing today, but not him. He has an injury.”
The dogs appear to be well looked after, some receiving massages before the start of the race and having vets on hand to monitor any damage incurred during the course of the gruelling 10-stage race.
The teams are primarily made up of two kinds of huskies, Siberians and Alaskans. None of them look like they spend much time on the couch.
At the end of the day handlers put down bowls of food and the dogs, still in harness and still in formation, chow down. The plat du jour this night is chunks of beef and kibble. No crème brulee though.
For more on Haute-Savoie and La Grande Odyssee go to: