05 January 2010

Mushers Return for ‘Dog Days’

It seems a reversal of logic, to wait all year for the snow to fall and then begin running outdoors. But to these dogs, it is the only logic that makes sense.

Throughout Canada and the United States’ snowy states, mushers are preparing their dogs for the winter dog sledding season. And, once again, a race near Olney will kick the season off for a group of mushers from around the Northwest U.S. and Canada.

The third annual Flathead Sled Dog Days, presented by Snow Action Sports, Inc., is held Jan. 8-10, with veterinarian check-ins the first day and racing on the final two days. In 2009, the event drew only 11 teams because of the recession and high diesel prices, down from more than 20 the first year.

But the numbers are back up again this year with 21 entries, ranging from four-dog teams up to 12-dog teams. Entrants come from the Montana towns Whitefish and Condon, as well as Alberta, Wisconsin and Colorado.

Brooke Bohannon, an organizer for the event, said Flathead Sled Dog Days is held earlier in the year than most other sled dog races, so some racers use it for training. Yet for others, it’s the biggest race of the winter. There is also a race in Seeley Lake the following weekend, which some of Flathead Sled Dog Days’ participants will attend, Bohannon said.

“There are some mushers with a lot of experience and some without a lot,” Bohannon said. “There’s a range. That’s a nice thing to see.”

In past years, there have been only two divisions: six dog and 12 dog, listed this year officially as six-eight dog and 10-12 dog. A team can race with either six or eight dogs in the former division and 10 or 12 in the latter.

This year, Bohannon and her fellow organizers have added a four-dog division, for which there was one entry as of last week: Rachel Wannamaker of Alberta. Wannamaker will race four miles on Jan. 9 and then four more on Jan. 10 for a two-day race total of eight miles.

The six-eight-dog division participants are slated for 25 miles each day, while the biggest division travels 40 miles each day, for a total of 80. The past two years, Bohannon said, the upper division has traveled 100 miles total. Even at 100 miles, the race was a relative jaunt in the park compared to the 1,161-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Alaska.

For more information about the race, Snow Action Sports, Inc., or to purchase Flathead Sled Dog Days merchandise, log on to www.flatheadsleddogdays.com or call (406) 471-4081

[Source: Flathead Beacon]