Although many people criticize modern-day sled dog races due to stories about cruel treatment, the tradition of sled dogs goes back further than you might realize. Many modern races aim to continue the tradition and spirit of sledding and sled dog culture in the safest way possible for both mushers and their dogs. Check out the top dog sled races where competitors worldwide compete every year, from the United States to Norway.
1. American Dog Derby – Idaho
One of the top sled dog races in the world is also considered the oldest sled dog race in the United States. In 1917, Tud Kent won the first running of the American Dog Derby. Since then, there have been years of changes, culminating in the present-day five races. Each year, races start in Ashton, Idaho, varying in length from 125 to 60 miles.
2. La Grande Odyssée – France
Held in the French and Swiss Alps since 2005, La Grande Odyssée Savoie Mont Blanc features a grueling 560-mile course for two weeks. Many interested spectators come to see the dogs running at the ten stages. Teams of 14 dogs and their mushers compete from a dozen countries, including France, the Czech Republic, and Switzerland.
3. John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon – Minnesota
Founded in 1980, the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon includes four races. The Marathon runs 300 miles with teams of 12 dogs starting from Duluth, Minnesota. The Marathon is a qualifier for the Iditarod in Alaska. The other races include a 120-mile race, a recreational 40-mile race, and a junior 120-mile race.
4. Apostle Island Sled Dog Race – Wisconsin
Bayfield, a small city in Wisconsin, hosts the Apostle Islands Sled Dog Race every February. The event includes races for 10-dog, eight-dog, and six-dog teams, running on a 60-mile course. Three days of events, including bonfires and recreational races, make the event a family-friendly occasion.
5. Ivakkak – Quebec, Canada
Since 2001, Ivakkak has been a racing event held in Nunavik, Quebec, to celebrate and honor the dog sled traditions of the Inuit people. A major goal of Ivakkak has been to revive the Inuit Sled Dog from its endangered status. Inuit mushers who enter the race try to restore the nomadic culture of their recent ancestors, even though most Inuit travel by snowmobile today.
6. The Percy DeWolfe Memorial Mail Race – Alaska and Yukon, Canada
This 200-mile race sees teams run from Dawson City in Canada’s Yukon territory to Eagle, Alaska. Along with the main Percy DeWolfe Memorial Mail Race, a junior, 100-mile race follows the Yukon River to Fortymile before returning to Dawson City. The race was first held in 1977 to honor the brave mail carrier Percy DeWolfe, who helped get mail between Dawson City and Eagle from 1910 to 1949.
7. Race to the Sky – Montana
The trail for Race to the Sky takes mushers and their dog teams through the Rocky Mountains in Montana. Originally run in 1986 as a 500-mile race, the current race features a 300-mile distance race and two 100-mile races. For over 30 years, this race has been a qualifying race for the famous Iditarod.
8. Can-Am Crown – Maine
One of the top sled dog races in the eastern United States, the Can-Am Crown held its first race in 1993 under blizzard conditions with nine teams competing. The three races of the Can-Am Crown include 250, 100, and 30-mile races. The Can-Am 250 race maintains its place as the longest sled dog race in the eastern United States. The winner of the 250-mile race receives a cash prize of $29,000. All three races of the Can-Am Crown start on Main Street in Fort Kent, Maine.
9. Yukon Quest – Alaska and Yukon, Canada
The Yukon Quest 1,000-mile International Sled Dog Race, informally known as the Yukon Quest, has been run every February since 1984. This sled dog race features a trail between Fairbanks, Alaska, and Whitehorse, Yukon, switching off the start and finish from year to year.
10. Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race – Alaska
One of the world’s most famous sled dog races, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, is held every March and takes teams of 12 to 14 dogs from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska. The total length of the race is almost 1000 miles from start to finish.
11. Finnmarksløpet – Norway
The longest dog sled dog race in Europe runs through Finnmark in Norway. Finnmarksløpet began in 1981 with only three competitors. The race has changed since then and now runs nearly 750 miles. Three main race classes host competitions, including a junior class for six-dog teams, a mid-range class for eight-dog teams, and the main event for 14-dog teams. Teams start and finish in the town of Alta, Norway.
12. Tok Dog Mushers’ Association Race of Champions – Alaska
Since 1958, the Tok Dog Mushers’ Association has managed the organization of the Race of Champions. This race features six-dog, eight-dog, and open-class events. The shortest race is six miles with six-dog teams, and the longest is the open-class race at 16 miles long. One of the goals of the association and its race is to keep the mushing culture alive in native communities in and around Tok, Alaska.
13. Kuskokwim 300 – Alaska
Every January since 1980, the Kuskokwim 300, or K-300, has been run along the Kuskokwim River in Bethel, Alaska. A mid-distance dog sled race, the course along the river takes mushers and their dogs 300 miles through difficult terrain and conditions, including low windchill and rain.
14. Avannaata Qimussersua – Greenland
Every March in Greenland, the Avannaata Qimussersua draws many spectators to the west coast just above the Arctic Circle. The location of this 25-mile race changes every year. Typically, sled dog teams must be flown in on helicopters to these remote towns, which often have no road systems.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © freevideophotoagency/Shutterstock.com
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