Panning for glory

Yukon’s mining heritage will be celebrated this summer in Dawson City. On July 4, from 1 to 4 p.m., the Yukon Gold Panning Championships will take place at the Waterfront Park on Front Street, offering several levels of competition open to all ages and skills.

The Klondike Visitors Association (KVA) puts on the event. Katie Pearce and Paul Robitaille both work for the KVA and are the main event coordinators. They began a month ahead of time, organizing sponsors and volunteers, as well as gathering all the equipment needed.

The day before the event, both Robitaille and Pearce, along with several volunteers, will set up tents and trailers at the site and fill troughs with water and buckets with dirt for the competition. “There’s lots of grunt work involved,” says Robitaille. “We couldn’t do it without the help of sponsors, volunteers, and partners. Lots of people help out.” “It’s lots of hard work, but it pays off,” adds Pearce. “People love it.”

On the day of the competition, the KVA will make sure that there are pans available for everyone who needs one. There will experts on-site to teach those that have little-to-no experience, and coaches to assist with tips and advice during competition.

Registration opens early and there are several categories offered.

The Sourdough Open is for those 60 years and over. The Cheechako Open is for those with minimal panning experience; along with inexperienced locals, visitors to the Yukon are encouraged to enter this category. The Klondike Classic is for those using only traditional pans. There are also two youth categories — one for those under 11, and one for those who are 12 to 15.

Then there is the Yukon Open category, open to all Yukon residents 16 years and older. The winner will be given money by the KVA towards a trip to the World Gold Panning Championships, being held this year in Navelgas, Spain. There, they will represent the Yukon and Canada.

Once everyone is registered, there is a practice area for participants to warm up. After the opening ceremonies and a gold panning demonstration, the competition begins.

Here’s how it works: Panners are given an equal amount of dirt in a bucket. Depending on the category, each bucket will contain fi ve to twelve gold fl akes. The participants do not know how much gold they are looking for.

Once the clock starts, contestants will pan until they find gold. When they are done, they hold up their pan to signal they are fi nished. The fl akes are then put in a vial and the scrutineer will count them to see if the right amount for that category has been found. For every flake that the participant has missed, a three minute time penalty will be added. The winner is determined by the fastest time.

Robitaille points out that even if you don’t win, you still get to keep the gold you’ve found. “We’ll make sure that everyone finds at least one flake.”

On average, a total of 100 people enter every year. Diane Schroeder, a local, has been competing since 2008. It all started when Schroeder volunteered to be a timer in 2007. “I never had any experience,” she says. But she was interested.

When her friends were given a special, competitive pan by a Norwegian participant at the Worlds, she decided to borrow it and give panning a try. She then went to a local expert to get lessons. In 2008, she entered the Cheechako category and won.

In 2009, she came in second in the Yukon Open and ended up competing at the World Championships, held in Italy that year. “It was pretty amazing,” she says. “I was hooked after that.”

She has entered every year since and usually places in the top three. There is a trough in her backyard where she practices her speed. She says she’s not obsessed, but is very competitive. “It’s a rush, it’s fun, and it’s a buzz,” she says with a smile. “It’s one day once a year and it’s a treat.”

For those that might not want to participate in the day’s competition, the KVA is offering other events. There will be a historic mining demonstration given by the staff at the Dawson City Museum, a paleontology display, a gold pouring demonstration, and a barbeque. “It’s all part of our mining heritage and it’s a lovely way to celebrate,” says Pearce of the event.

“It’s going to be a great day.” For more information on the Yukon Gold Panning Championships on July 4, please contact the KVA at 867-993-5575, or email: [email protected]

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