ALTERNATIVELY... On the slide with mulled wine at the Europa Cup dog-sledding championship

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The Independent Online
SNOW, GLuHWEIN, dogs and Germans. A heady mixture maybe, but come this weekend all will converge on the sleepy, picturesque town of Bernau in the north German state of Brandenberg for the 2005 Europa Cup Race.

Historically, dog-sledding may not have been the quintessential German outdoor pursuit, but little will dampen the Gluhwein-induced spirits (a local, mulled delicacy) of the participants at this year's Black Forest extravaganza.

Indeed, were we to trace the event's origins back to its starting date of 1973, a none too appreciative band of jeering onlookers would be found encouraging the mere 16 mushers who entered that year.

But times have changed. Since the inaugural German dog-sled meet, in Bad Sooden Allendorf, attendance has increased markedly, with no fewer than 40,000 people at the World Cup races in 1994. And at Bernau this weekend, the 150 teams from all over the world - with more than 1,000 huskies in tow - will contest a 45-kilometre (28-mile) race that winds through the snow-dusted evergreens of a rugged, spectacular landscape that comprises Europe's heartland.

Prize-money will not reach the dizzying heights of the $50,000 (pounds 27,500) Stage Race in Oregon, but competitors can find solace in taking a class on baking a traditional Black Forest Cake.

There is also a one- or two-day mushing class for those sufficiently inspired by the racing and a fairy-tale environment.

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