Some of North America’s best mushers are competing in Idaho Sled Dog Challenge

“Running” through hundreds of miles in the middle of Idaho in the winter is very difficult. Add in a couple of tough climbs, and the competition is one few are willing to put up with.

Jessie Royer has won the tournament twice. He also finished 10th in the Iditarod.

“This is not a 300-kilometer race,” he said. “This is a 500-kilometer race filled with 300 kilometers.”

Dave Looney, co-founder of the Idaho Sled Dog Challenge, also described the competition.

“We have over 40,000 legs that they have to climb. It’s very difficult.”

On the heels of hosting a series of events, Looney visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to discuss how some of the best sports in North America are coming to our region to compete.

Read the full article below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It’s Morning Edition. Good Morning. I’m George Prentice. It goes without saying that the Iditarod is considered the most famous dog race in the world. This year, it starts in early March in Anchorage. What many people may not know is that there are exciting sled dog races in our area this month and next, and that includes the Idaho Sled Dog Challenge. And here to talk about it is the co-founder of the Idaho Sled Dog Challenge. He is Dave Looney. Dave, good morning.

DAVE LOONEY: Good morning, sir.

PRENTICE: First off, I’m interested in the mushers. I’ve covered a few. They are happy like a normal person. But talk to me… this isn’t just fun because it’s a huge commitment in time and money.

LOONEY: It’s a great life to take on the role of chief musher. Obviously, people have small groups, and they can graduate. But when you start talking about the top ten Iditarod competitors, they might have 50 or 70 dogs in their kennel. And they are in great breeding. They spend their days talking and working with dogs and training them to run as fast as they can.

PRENTICE: I know the vets are part of your team’s operations and the care of those dogs is very important.

LOONEY: It’s at the heart of everything we talk about. That’s how you can make sure the dogs are well taken care of. The mushers, of course, are very interested in the dogs that are their members for mushers and veterinarians. That is their job. Therefore, our veterinarians are of the highest quality. They have been on the Iditarod. They know what they are looking for and what kind of injury is happening to them. And so, for the mushers… I’ve seen mushers look at a group in 5 seconds, 12 dogs in front of them and say, “Yeah, that one has a sore back right leg.” Look in 5 seconds at a group of 12 dogs and immediately see the dog that needs help.

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PRENTICE: So, talk to us about the layout of the Idaho Sled Dog Challenge. And of course, it’s more than one event.

LOONEY: Yeah, and we change things up a little bit. Jerry, the other co-founder, always wants to throw me a rope and I’m like the Trails logistics guy. So every year I try to twist his neck when he… well, let’s do this differently. And this year we’ve brought back the inaugural event, which will be held at the Activity Barn in McCall on the 28th. And they have events and times on the Idaho Sled Dog Challenge website. But I believe the starting point is 10 and that will just bring people out and get them to see the dogs. And it’s Sunday. Therefore, children are easy to be around. He doesn’t have to worry about school and all that. So, I think that’s the main reason why we wanted to bring back the event so that people can come and see the show. The first year we did it at Ponderosa State Park, we had the most visitors ever at every event. The parking lot is full. People couldn’t get there. We had 2000 people come to Ponderosa Park to see the beginning. We have the Warm Lake race, which is also held before this, which is a race from Warm Lake. That’s 25Th and 26, I believe. Then the big race starts from Cascade on the 30thTh. And there will be a 10:00 launch for the 300 kilometer race and then a 2:00 launch for the 100 kilometer race.

PRENTICE: 300 miles. Oh. Dare I say there’s a lot more… well, more than a little riding. There are many ups and downs there.

LOONEY: In fact, Jessie Royer, has won the race twice and has been a top 10 finisher in the Iditarod. I don’t know how many times. He told me at the end of the race, I think last year or the year before, he said, “This is not a 300-kilometer race. This is a 500-kilometer race filled with 300 kilometers.” And we have over 40,000 vertical feet to climb up and down. It’s very hard on the dogs.

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PRENTICE: You need a special permit from the Forest Service? Do you have their full agreement?

LOONEY: We do. The Forest Service never blinked an eye. He loves being with us. And we have to get permission. But they help me a lot.

PRENTICE: So, you have competitors from all over?

LOONEY: We do. We’ve had people from Alaska, Minnesota, Canada, Colorado, you name it, from all over.

PRENTICE: So, the big race starts again on the 30th.

LOONEY: It does. That’s right.

PRENTICE: How long would it take a musher to walk 300 miles?

LOONEY: Well, he doesn’t sleep much, as you can imagine. And dogs don’t need enough rest for their health. We force them to rest maybe more than they need. But dogs need more rest than dogs do. If you could just take off, “Hey, go run 300 miles and give them a flat course,” I’m sure it would be a different number. But with checks and requirements and everything else, I expect it to be four days at 300 miles.

PRENTICE: Is there any weather problem that would prevent this?

LOONEY: Our biggest concern is that we have a big snowfield. If we get a few snow flurries or something like that, this will make the trails more difficult due to standing. I mean, dogs can get in the way. But like you and me, if we get out of the snow and walk in the snow and it’s light and fluffy, it’s easier than if it’s not. And so, if we have a pull out there where the pull on the silo is so great that 12 dogs can’t climb that hill, they have to climb it. Now we have a problem. We have trackers on the silos. We can see where they stand and how long they have been there. And we’re looking at the weather. And we have teams of guys to go with snow machines and trail loaders to clear their trail. If the weather comes, then we have to save them and attach the snow machine to the guide dog and take the gang and get them out or just carry the way. And if we can just pick up the lane and let them run the race, then we’ll let them run the race. It must be very important for dogs not to be able to do that. But it can happen in this season.

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PRENTICE: We can follow the race online. But then again, there’s no such thing as being in the face. Therefore, the event will begin on the 29th at the Activity Barn.

LOONEY: All right.

PRENTICE: And the official starts the race on the 30th. And where do we go if we want to see the official start?

LOONEY: The official start will be at Cascade. The 300 kilometer race will start there at 10:00. They will go to Smiths Ferry. So, if you just want to drive to Smiths Ferry, just check the tracker online and find out where the dog groups are. They have been pulling over and resting in Smiths Ferry. They will return to Cascade and then head north, ending up at the Y checkpoint in New Meadows. Then they return to Cascade. That’s 300 kilometers. The 100 kilometers will start at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. They are leaving Cascade and heading north. Finally headed to the Y, but will stop at the Platt… hot cabin. That’s a great check to see. It’s just well laid out and it’s kind of remote at the end of the road there. And then from there, they will go to a small Ski Hill. They will rest a little only then. It will be midnight. So, it will be nice, but it won’t be a good time to rush there because it will be at night or early morning. And then they will leave there and finish at Y and that will be the end of the 100 kilometer race.

PRENTICE: Wow. Dave Looney is the co-founder of the Idaho Sled Dog Challenge. Dave, that’s great. Thank you for your time this morning. And folks, if you’ve never done this before, it’s a to-do list. Dave, that’s great and thanks for your time this morning.

LOONEY: Thank you, George, for everything you do.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgeren

Copyright 2023 Boise State Public Radio


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