To the fans of sled dog racing and Alaska tourists the Iditarod sled dog race, last great race, is the high point. If you are here for tourism in summer, there are several opportunities to experience sled dogging for yourself when you visit this summer.
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The ceremonial start is in Anchorage, Alaska, and the real start somewhat further along the way. This false start is sometimes necessary because of lack of snow, but mainly it is because Anchorage is a city. Sled dogs and cities don’t mix. Snow is hauled in for this event, as necessary.
Living on the island, we did not follow the Iditarod sled dog race for lack of television and newspapers. Besides, life out there was not one where we were glued to the various forms of mass media available at the time. We rarely even listened to music on a CD player, not because we did not like music (we do) or that we did not have power (we did, via Solar Cells, a diesel generator and a bank of batteries) but I think the noise of civilization had no purpose for us. We preferred the sound of the wind in the trees and the music the forest makes: the call of eagles and seagulls, the creaking and groaning of the giant spruce and hemlock.
The Iditarod has a close knit community of racers and race fans. Mushers come from around the world to race. And there are several other sled dog races over the course of a winter. It is an important sport not only in Alaska, but in Minnesota and various Nordic countries. Sled dog racing for youth is a growing in popularity. It is a great sport for young people.
To some sled dog racing is controversial because of the pressure put on dogs to run and the physical harm that can come to them. The race now has elaborate and strictly enforced protocols for protecting these specialized puppies. Besides these dogs love to run.
We have had working dogs (more on that later), but never a sled dog. The sled dog of today by comparison is thin and wiry and excitable, many are without the heavy fur one might expect. These dogs are a far cry from our beloved Bernese Mountain Dog, Shiloh, who, in antiquity, was bred for pulling milk carts in the Old Country. Shiloh had a stocky build with short legs, and she loved to pull but had limited endurance for running. In old photos of village live from early in the 19th century it is easy to spot the widespread use of Bernese Mountain Dogs and similar Mountain Breeds.
I will repeat that. Shiloh loved to pull. And Iditarod sled dogs love to run and run.
Fielding a team of sled dogs requires… well… a lot of dogs. You become a dog breeder as much as a dog racer. The women and men who race have various motivations. For some it a natural extension of living in the wilds of Alaska, carrying on a tradition of transportation that, really, was not that long ago, great mushing families like the Huntingtons. Even today, dogs are occasionally used for casual transportation or for kids, just for the fun of a dog pulling the toboggan. The prize money for the Iditarod is meager, about $50,000 for the winner. Many of the professional sled dog operations supplement their income by breeding and selling animals for other racers. But as Cruise Ship Tourism expands, some mushers spend summers on the ice field above Juneau, Alaska (for example) providing this signature Alaskan experience for you.
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