Several local mushers have recently returned from one of the first sled dog races of the year, and many will be jumping right into another race this weekend.
Last Saturday and Sunday was the Denali Seven Dog Dash, a 120-mile race, spread over two days in Paxson. The race served as a qualifier for the Copper Basin 300.
This was the first year for the race, but organizers John and Deb Schandelmeier hope to make it an annual event.
"It went pretty good," said John Schandelmeier. "The mushers seemed to have a good time, which was good because we really billed this as a musher's race, more than a spectator's race."
Schandelmeier expanded on what he meant by a musher's race.
"We tried to make a race for mushers other than the professional racing mushers. Mushers with full-time jobs need races too and I wanted to target them," he said.
Schandelmeier said that was one of the reason for the seven-dog limit.
"We wanted to keep it a seven dogs so small kennels could get in. A lot of people only have 10 to 12 dogs in their kennels," he said. "Also, keep the dog numbers down, kept speeds down, which this early in the racing season can really help limit dog injuries."
Mushers didn't seem to mind the seven-dog limit, as more than 40 people signed up for the race including five mushers from here on the peninsula.
Kasilof's own Jon Little had three teams in the dog dash, thus racing 21 of the 24 dogs he's training for races this year.
"This was my first race of the year and starting with 120 miles was pretty aggressive, especially with the seven-dog limit," said Little, who placed fifth. "It was a good tune-up for the veterans, but there was also a large percentage of mushers who hadn't raced before."
One of those mushers that hadn't ever raced before was Little's girlfriend and kennel partner Brandi Krosschell, who placed second.
"It felt great," said Krosschell in regard to her win, but admitted where she finished in the race wasn't her primary focus.
"I was more proud of the dogs," she said. "There were a lot of good teams and I was just happy the dogs did what they were supposed to do, and that they performed their best. Where I finished wasn't important."
Other peninsula mushers that competed in the race were: Dean Osmar, who finished in sixth place; Paul Gauthier, also running a team for Little, who finished in 10th place; and Colleen Robertia, running a team for Osmar, who finished in 18th place.
The race had a total cash purse of $3,200 and all finishers received prizes donated from numerous community businesses and mushing supply companies.
Although many of the local mushers have only recently returned from the long drive back from Paxson, many are already looking toward the next race.
This weekend is the Clam Gulch Classic, a two-day race in which mushers will cover 28 miles of terrain per day.
Little said just coming off a 120-mile run, his teams may need to put in more miles than what the Classic can offer, but he's hasn't entirely ruled out the race because "It's just such a fun race."
Will Faulkner, the organizer of the Clam Gulch Classic said he is expecting between 12 and 20 teams to sign up.
Registration is at 10 a.m. on Saturday at the Clam Shell Lodge and the race begins at noon. For more information, call 394-6409.
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