A chaotic but always popular social event

17:00, Jun 10 2014
dog derby
ALL IN THE FAMILY: Bill Dagg, 83, who was the winner of the inaugural Winter Festival dog derby 40 years ago, with nephew Chris Dagg who is yet to complete the course despite entering 20 times.

When retired Wakatipu farmer Bill Dagg won the inaugural Queenstown Winter Festival dog derby 40 years ago, it was a lot more of an orderly affair.

"When we first started, it was all musterers and now they have all sorts.

"It got a bit confusing with everybody there and the pet dogs and whatever," Dagg, now 83, said.

That includes his nephew Chris Dagg, also a farmer at Coronet Peak, who has competed about 20 times in the event.

"It's chaos," he agreed. "If you're down in the first few, you've got a reasonable chance but, once there's 40, 50 or 60 people all down there whistling, the dogs have trouble discerning who is calling and then there's all the other dogs to distract them."

It was a reflection of change in the area.


"Farming has got less and less and we've got more and more town people. There's more people from town in the dog derby than the country now."

The event was started by Coronet Peak worker Des Gavin, who wanted to provide something for the farmers during the first Winter Festival.

It attracted about a dozen entries but these days the derby regularly gets up to 80 dogs and their owners at a time travelling up the Coronet Peak express chairlift and sprinting down the mountain before completing a small course where dogs are required to run between markers.

It had been so popular that it is one of only two events scheduled every year for the festival - the other being the Waiters Race, now the Hospitality Race, during the DownTown Day - though it has been cancelled twice because of the weather.

For both men, the reason for being at the event was social. "It was always just a good chance to catch up with people you only see a couple of times a year. It was good fun. If it wasn't for the

competition, I would have given up a long time ago," Chris said.

In fact, in 20 years of competing, he has yet to finish the race, let alone repeat his uncle's win.

Insanity is, Chris believes, a prerequisite to winning.

"Back in the old days, it was how many beers you had. You had a veil of supremacy but they've eased that off a bit. It really comes down to how brave you are," he said.

Chris is feeling a bit older and a bit less brave this year but will probably enter to mark the 40th anniversary and have one last attempt at the title.

"It's more luck than skill," he said.

"Perseverance doesn't get you the win. I can tell you that."

What: 40th anniversary Queenstown Winter Festival DB Export Dog Derby

Where: Coronet Peak When: Thursday, June 26 Cost: $20 and R18 to enter, free to watch

More info: winterfestival.co.nz

The Southland Times