Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Marcel Vander Wier

SCENIC TRAVELLING – Gerry Willomitzer mushes his dog team near Annie Lake during the Mount Lorne Christmas Classic Saturday morning.

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Photo by Marcel Vander Wier

OFF TO THE RACES – Thomas Verin’s dogs appear happy to hit the trail near the Mount Lorne Community Centre Saturday morning. Verin finished seventh.

Willomitzer cruises to Christmas Classic victory

Iditarod veteran Gerry Willomitzer started his season in fine form last weekend.

By Marcel Vander Wier on January 4, 2016

Iditarod veteran Gerry Willomitzer started his season in fine form last weekend.

The Shallow Bay musher climbed onto the runners behind his dog team for the first time Saturday – the first of two days of racing in the Mount Lorne Christmas Classic stage race.

“It was the first time I was on a dog sled this weekend,” he said. “Because of the low snow north of town, we’ve just been on four-wheelers.

“So it was kind of a white-knuckle ride at first.”

Willomitzer finished with a total time of six hours, 30 minutes – 19 minutes ahead of runner-up Marine Gastard and 20 minutes ahead of organizer Magnus Kaltenborn.

For the win, Willomitzer took home $535, while Gastard and Kaltenborn also finished in the money.

Erin Stevens finished last in eight hours, five minutes.

Willomitzer entered the second day of racing with a 16-minute lead on Kaltenborn.

“In past years, we wouldn’t have been that fast,” said Willomitzer, traditionally a longer-distance musher.

“This year, we’ve trained a lot faster, and not as long, because we’re not doing any of the big long-distance races this year.”

Willomitzer’s A team was led by huskies Odin, Highlander and Tundra. He took it a bit easier Sunday, and finished with a dog in the basket.

Willomitzer’s handler, Matt Rydholm, guided his B team to a fifth-place finish, as Willomitzer continues to rebuild his kennel.

Nine mushers took part in the race, which Kaltenborn hopes will become an annual affair.

“We wanted a training race for the teams that wanted to run longer distances later on in the season,” he told the Star.

“Most of the races here are really short, more sprint-type races.”

The teams, ranging from eight to 12 dogs, followed the same 69-kilometre trail out of the Mount Lorne Community Centre, down to Annie Lake and return.

“There was just enough snow to have the race and run dogs,” said Kaltenborn, an Annie Lake musher.

“The trail was fairly easy – relatively flat and fast.”

The race was originally scheduled to take place in December, but was postponed due to low snow levels.

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