The Open North American Championship Sled Dog Race



The Open North American Championship Sled Dog Race which runs right through the center of Fairbanks town. I thought you’d be interested in hearing a little about what goes on during the 3-day race. Snow is trucked in from around the city and dumped on 2nd Ave. and anywhere else in town that the trail runs over asphalt. The mushers can run a maximum of 20 dogs. Any number of dogs can be dropped over the 3 days of the race, but none added. All the dogs are marked with a marker prior to the first race and only those dogs marked may run. Many times a musher will begin with the full allotment of 20 dogs, and drop the younger or less experienced dogs, either during the race or after. Dogs that are dropped during the race, for any reason, must be carried to the races end in the sled basket.

 The first 2 days, the teams run 20 miles, on the 3rd day the teams run 27.5 miles.  The race begins on 2nd Ave. runs several blocks right through town to the Chena River. The race trail continues on frozen river for about a mile. Once off the river, the mushers travel mostly through wooded trails, but there are 2 more locations that the traffic, in town, must be stopped for the teams to pass, teams have the right of way and cars must wait for them. The trail is a loop, finishing up back where they started, on 2nd Ave.

 There is a helicopter that follows the mushers, and reports their movements as well as any new developments along the trail. The entire race is broadcast over AM radio as well as over the Internet from the chopper. Each musher, by choice, wears a small radio to keep up with changing weather conditions, competitors and possible pitfalls on the course.  There are several check points along the way and each one will send a report to headquarters, at the start/finish line, when the musher passes it giving the mushers time, this is then broadcast over the radio for all to hear. The chopper also relays the mushers’ position along the trail as well as any other information about the happenings on the trail. Almost everyone is either watching or listening or both to the race, including me, It’s fun to listen, and hear about any mushers that may have passed one another, had any dog or other problems, or just their location on the trail. Last year, when I was here, there was a problem with a moose on the trail the first day of the race. The helicopter was used to shoo the moose from the trail. It would fly low and herd the moose back into the woods almost constantly during the course of the race.  The 2nd day of the race, the helicopter, which usually goes up just minutes before the race begins, went up earlier, in the hopes of guiding the moose further back into the woods, something it was unable to do during the first race day. They were successful and the next 2 days of the race the trail was moose free. You may not realize it, but a moose on the trail is a big problem. Some of you may remember some years ago, Susan Butchers’ dog team tangled with a moose that had attacked them while she was mushing the Iditarod. She was forced to kill not only the moose, but also three of her own dogs that were badly mauled by it.  She had to scratch that year, giving the lead to Libby Riddles, who went on to be the first woman to win the Iditarod. Susan has since won 4 Iditarod races.


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