Park City lets the dogs out
February 1, 2008
For those Parkites who find themselves buried under a pile of snow, it could be worse worse as in pulling a sled through miles of snow. Tackling weather and other challenges is just another day for the huskies and mushers who will be finishing their International Pedigree Stage Stop Sled Dog Race on Saturday in Park City at the Quinn’s Junction Sports Complex.
The weather actually did prove to be a little much for some dogs and their masters as storms forced four of the 18 teams out of the week-long race.
"The weather has been crazy," said Darla Worden, public relations director for the race. "This year, it’s whole different race conditions."
Besides extreme snow patterns, Worden said that roads closures and high winds have also caused many problems during the race. The funny thing is that in past years Park City has scrambled to make sure there was enough snow.
"Be careful what you wish for," said Park City Chamber/Bureau special events director Bob Kollar, laughing.
The weather is all part of the race for the mushers who have spent a week at stops throughout Wyoming. They must adapt to succeed without help from any outside sources. There are dog handlers and a veterinary team at the beginning and end of each race, but when the racers are on course they must depend on themselves.
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"It’s up to them to build their strategy based on the weather," Worden said.
Mushers may own up to 16 dogs, but can only race 12 at a time. On a hard day, a musher might use 10 dogs and on an easy day just six. The dogs are Huskies and are bred to run in the snow. Even in rough weather conditions, Worden says the dogs prefer the cold and the snow.
Although dog mushing immediately conjures up images of sled teams racing across the frozen tundra of Alaska, the International Pedigree Stage Stop is a little different. While the Iditarod is a continuous trek through Alaska, the Stage Stop does just that it stops. Each night after a race, the mushers and dogs stay in the town the race took place. The stop-and-go style has earned the event the title of the "dog-friendly race." Some mushers use this race as a training and testing event for the Iditarod, giving their dogs a chance to race against some of the best teams before the big event.
The Park City stage has moved to a few different locations, including the cross-country course near the McPolin Barn and the Rail Trail. After last year’s race on the Rail Trail created a plethora of logistical challenges to get dogs safely across S.R. 248, the Park City Chamber decided the Round Valley Loop would be the perfect spot. Mountain Trails Foundation groomed the trail a bit wider for the sleds and the Park City Ice Arena agreed to be part of the event, opening its facility for parking, concessions and other needs.
"They’ve all been really helpful in making this a great event," Kollar said.
The race is based on the dogs, the quality of the sled and other equipment and the smart strategies of the musher making it an equal race for both men and women. Worden said that two men and two women have dropped out of the race, but it’s still a fairly even ratio and a woman is currently in the lead.
Mushers come from all over the globe for the race, but most of them are from very cold and snowy locales like Michigan, Minnesota, Montana and Alaska. Although it takes awhile to learn how to be a champion musher, Worden said there is a common thread between all of the competitors.
"They all love dogs. A love of dogs gets them into it," Worden said.
Before Park City joined the event, the leg was confined to the borders of Wyoming, but the attraction of a resort town for the final race seemed like a fitting finish.
The Pedigree race also allows kids to get a taste of the action with the Junior Mushers race at 3 p.m. The race selects two children from each stage stop who were chosen based on their community service and an essay. The shortened version of the real thing allows the children the chance to try the unique sport following a brief class on technique. Worden says that some of the kids jump in the sleds with the professional racers, but others are allowed to ride the course on the sled by themselves.
"The kids love it," Worden said. "Some dogs are so fast. It’s quite a thrill."
The stage stop race is also family-friendly giving communities a chance to mix with the mushers and see the race up-close. There will be opportunities for children and even dogs to take part in the event. At 10 a.m. on Saturday, there will be a "Meet the Mushers" event in the Park City Ice Arena parking lot. There, people can look at the sleds and the dogs and learn more about sled-dog racing as the mushers prepare for the race. At noon, the race will begin and people can watch them trek around the Round Valley course.
"It’s an easy stage stop to see teams come in," said Worden about the open design of the course.
There will also be drinks and food available at the ice rink for spectators and Pedigree samples for spectating dogs. The event is free and open to the public and dogs are welcome if they are on leashes.
"This is an opportunity to see sled dog racing without driving to the Iditarod in Alaska," Kollar said.
The ice rink will also host an open-skate session on Saturday from 12:30-2 p.m. for spectators that want to add ice skating as part of their day there.