Panning for gold the old-fashioned way is an art and a science, though you don’t have to be an expert in either to take part in the annual Yukon Gold Panning Championships, held on Saturday, July 1 in Dawson City.
“We’re trying to attract gold panning enthusiasts, competitive types, visitors, and first time gold panners,” says Paul Robitaille, marketing and events manager for the Klondike Visitors Association (KVA). “It’s open to everyone.”
The physics of gold panning is pretty simple: rocks and dirt are eight times heavier than water, and gold is 19 times heavier, so with the right technique, the flakes sink to the bottom, where they are then collected.
The art of it is another story. During the Klondike gold rush, for example, when hundreds of other prospectors were testing the same ground, finding the richest ground depended on the speed of your panning and the accuracy of your results. Those who had the best and fastest technique were best able to determine whether to stake a claim or move on.
The idea behind gold panning competitions is to mimic the combination of efficiency and speed displayed during those historic times.
In Dawson, the championships are open to amateurs and professionals alike. Some of the categories include first time, children, youth, and classic.
Here’s what to expect: In each category, panners are given an equal amount of dirt in a container. Each container has five to 12 gold flakes mixed in. Everyone in each category gets the same amount of flakes as everyone else, but aren’t told how many. Competitors pan out their container until they find gold.
The gold is transferred to a vial, and a scrutineer and the panner confirm the amount of gold. For each piece of gold missing from the original amount in the dirt, the panner is penalized three minutes. Winners of the categories are determined by a combination of time completed and penalty minutes added. Win or lose, the contestant gets to keep the gold.
In case you’re brand new at panning, or just want to work out the kinks, the KVA offers a practice area before the competition. There will be someone onsite to provide advice on technique and offer equipment to those who have none.
But, as Robitaille points out, the event is not just about gold panning.
“We want to tell the story about gold mining in general,” he says.
Therefore, throughout the day, there will also be exhibits and talks about gold mining, an actual gold pouring demonstration and rocker box demonstrations, to name a few.
“We want to make it enjoyable, social and fun,” says Robitaille. “We’re hoping everyone will come play in the dirt with us.”
For more information, email KVA@dawson.net, or call 867-993-5575