First time winner in Prince Albert Winter Festival sled dog finale

Photo Courtesy Rod Young Charlie Conners and his sled dog team rush down an open trail during the first day of competition in the Prince Albert Winter Festival 10 dog event. Conners would go on to win the event. It was his first win since he began attending the Winter Festival dog sled races more than 40 years ago.

The Conner family has been racing in the Prince Albert Winter Festival Sled Dog Races for generations, and on Sunday, Charlie Conner finally made good on all those attempts.

Conner won the 10 dog Saskatchewan Challenge race at the Prince Albert Winter Festival with an aggregate time of one hour, 14 minutes, and 35.14 seconds after the races on Saturday and Sunday were tabulated.

Conner and his family have been travelling to the Winter Festival Sled Dog Races for more than 40 years, so that made his first win even more special.

“It means a lot to me because my family has been coming to this race for a long time,” Conner said. “My dad raced here. We raced here as kids, (and) my kids were running one dog, three dog and four dog.”

Conner, who is from Loon Lake, was neck and neck with Dexter Lafferty for both days. Lafferty crossed the finish line first on Sunday afternoon.

“He had 45 seconds on me and I knew he was going to come home strong today,” Conner said. “He came home really strong so I was really nervous.”

The weather at the start of the race Sunday was blizzard like with snow and winds. Despite the conditions, Conner and his sled dog team were able to persevere.

“It was blowing and drifting and just a real hard headwind all the way home,” he said. “It was tough. The trail was really good though, so that made a big difference.”

Submitted Photo Charlie Conner raised the trophy above his head for winning the Prince Albert Winter Festival 10 Dog Race on Sunday afternoon.

He said that there were no adjustments made between Saturday and Sunday. Conner said he was confident his team could take the lead on day two.

“We have a really good team there and I kept them pretty much where they were and just looked after them really well,” he said. “Usually they are a little more tired on day two, but they took off and they were running like 22 miles an hour out the chute.”

Conner’s lead dogs are named Moe and Honald. The person he bought them from named them after different athletes.

Conner and his family have been racing the circuit this year. The kennel the family owns is called Conner Family Racing and Tourism.

“I have never won this race so this is a big deal,” he said. “We race everywhere. We have been all the way down to Minnesota, Alberta, Manitoba this year,” he said.

It was not just a big win for Conner’s family but it was also a big win for Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation. Conner said the popularity of dog sled racing is dropping in PBCN. He’s hopeful this win can help rejuvenate interest.

“I’m part of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation and that’s a big win for us too. There are only two mushers left in Peter Ballantyne out of the whole membership. There is 15,000 members and there is two mushers. For us to win is nice,” Conner said.

Lafferty was second and Moe Ladoceur was third in the 10 dog race.

In the six-dog race, Tommy Harvey-Coli was first, Demi McGunigal was second and James Willier was third. 

In the four-dog race Tammy McGunnigal from MacDowall finished first, Leasha Sinclair finished second and Liam Connor finished third.

Lafferty was presented Best Sportsmanship for the 6 dog and Danielle McGunnigal for the 10 dog.

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald Racers took off at the start of the Prince Albert Winter Festival Sled Dog Race 10 Dog Race on Sunday afternoon at the Winter Festival Outdoor Site.

The winner of the three-dog race was Charlie’s son Rory Conner.

In the one-dog race Charlie’s son Isaac Conner was first with Matilda Sinclair and Ellis Ladoceur tying for second in the race which closed out the day after the completion of the 10 dog race.

“Thanks to the Prince Albert Winter Festival and everyone that put the race on and put all of the work into it,” Conner said.

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald Dexter Lafferty crossed the finish line first but placed second in the Prince Albert Winter Festival 10 Dog Sled Race on Sunday afternoon.

Prince Albert Winter Festival 2023 10-Dog Results

1. Charlie Conner (1:14:35:14)

2. Dexter Lafferty (1:14:44:19)

3. Moe Ladoceur (1:15:25:55)

4. Demi McGunigal (1:15:30:04)

  1. Danielle McGunigal (1:17:56:07)
  2. Clifford Smith (1:22:51:52)
  3. Todd Sinclair (1:25:18:51)