If you live in an area where most days are snowy days, sled dog racing might be just the sport for you. Imagine the fun of sledding through the woods hot on the trail of the reigning champ. If you love the outdoors and don't mind a little shiver, check this out.
The main requirement for this type of activity is a love of dogs. With up to 10 dogs on a team, caring for your animals can be a big job.
Sled dogs were originally used to transport people through snowy areas for a variety of reasons such as hunting, delivering mail and exploring.
In 1925, several sled teams were used as a relay to get medicine to Nome, Alaska, when diphtheria was discovered. Getting the medicine in a timely manner meant saving the area from an epidemic that could have killed dozens of people.
Sled dog races probably began when hunters challenged each other just to see who had the better team. We know that the first official races were held in the early 1900s.
Many different types of dogs are used for racing. There are the typical huskies and malamutes, but you will also find foxhounds, Dalmatians and Irish setters.
Sled dogs appear to be very thin, but this is because they are well-trained athletes. Trainers are very careful to keep their dogs healthy and at the proper weight for racing. Size is important in a race. Most sled dogs are small, weighing less than 50 pounds.
Racing sled dogs means caring for your dogs. Dogs must be constantly checked for diseases or parasites, and a good temperament is a must for a sled dog. The dog must not be afraid of crowds and noise, and he has to work well as part of a team of dogs.
Skijoring involves dogs pulling a skier wearing cross-country skis, as opposed to pulling a sled.
"Mushing" is another term for driving sled dogs. It comes from the French word "marcher," which means to walk.
For the physically handicapped, sled dog racing is a sport that judges everyone equally. People with a variety of handicaps have participated in all types of events, long and short. As long as you have the ability to control the dogs, you're a go.
If you find yourself falling in love with sled dog racing, there are several careers that can keep you involved full time. Breeding, training and kenneling dogs is a large part of the sport. There are also a number of stores and catalogs that make and sell sled dog equipment.
If you love the sport but aren't up to the challenge of caring for the dogs, consider being a photographer or writer for the sports magazines that cover dog sledding.
Having the right equipment is a big part of dog sled racing.
Two types of sleds are the basket sled and the toboggan. Basket sleds are lighter and can be very fast on hard-packed snow. Toboggan sleds are better for carrying heavy loads since they are more stable.
Sleds do have brakes -- a mechanism pushes a metal hook into the snow to slow or stop the sled.
There are several types of harnesses. Choosing the right one is important. You want to be sure the weight is evenly distributed on the dogs. It must be the proper style for the weight you're carrying.
Many races require you to carry a snow hook (a kind of emergency brake for the sled), a sled bag to carry an injured dog and dog booties to protect the dogs' feet.
Some races take place over several days and require you to bring food and gear for sleeping outdoors during the race.
All the necessary equipment will run between $300 and $500, which does not include the cost of caring for the dogs. A sled team must be well fed, kenneled and have regular checkups.
Many mushers get their dogs as pups and train them for sledding. Dogs must be taught to ignore noises and crowds that can be distracting. They must respond to commands and they must be aerobically fit.
Gee and haw are the dog commands for turn right and turn left. Easy is the command for slow down.
The Iditarod is billed as the "last great race on Earth." It is 1,150 miles long and runs from Anchorage, Alaska, to Nome, Alaska, and covers some of the toughest ground in the world. Temperatures are way below zero and it takes the teams 10 to 17 days to complete the course. The race is run in March.
To get involved, check your phonebook or the Web to find a club or kennel near you. Kennels always need help and volunteering is a great way to learn about the sport.
International Sled Dog Racing Association
Alaska Dog Mushers Association, Inc.
P.O. Box 70622
British Mushers Association
The Iditarod Race
Learn more about this intense race
Sled Dog Central
An information source for those into the sport
"All the adventure -- none of the frostbite"