With Mother Nature in an undependable freeze-thaw cycle that leaves winter-sports enthusiasts on edge about their ability to play, the Chugiak Dog Mushers Association has embraced a new shoulder-season sport for aspiring dog mushers and skijor fans. The club hosted a dryland training program in August to teach dog owners how they might combine their love of sport into such race options as how to run or pull a bike, scooter, or rig with your dog. This month, it launches a three-race dryland racing series that culminates with a championship race in early October.
“We started in 2014 just to test the waters to see the kind of reception we’d have,” said Chugiak Dog Mushers board member Debora Summers. “In the past, we haven’t had to have these types of races because we’ve always had snow. But after three years of bad snow, we wanted something that could extend the season.”
Summers, like many mushing enthusiasts in southcentral Alaska, has a micro-kennel – kennels with a dozen or fewer dogs for those who enjoy the sport but do not want or need the massive commitment of a 75- or 100-dog lot. These animal lovers want to spend time with their canines as they age out of the racing divisions and shift into more leisurely activities. Dryland racing seemed just the antidote.
“I have 11 dogs in my kennel, and a lot were dogs my kids raced and they went off to college,” she said. “I wanted to somehow incorporate the ability for those of us who have micro kennels to participate in sports with our dogs.”
This month, the club hosts three races to put the August training session in practice, although Summers said even beginners will feel welcome. There will be races Sept. 10, 17 and 24 in the following categories: 1-dog bikejor, 2-dog bikejor, 2-dog scooter, 4-dog rig, 1-dog canicross (men) and 1-dog canicross (women). Canicross is basically running cross country with your dog attached to you via a hipbelt.
Canicross and cart racing is not an Alaska invention, although Summers is the one who proposed the idea to the club. In Europe, there are entire racing seasons that include bikejoring, canicross and cart racing with canines. And professional dog mushers often partake of dryland racing as a way to keep their canine athletes fit year-round.
“We started out slow in 2014 to test the water, but the numbers are growing,” Summers added. “A lot of our members are now folks that have 1, 3 and 4 dogs and they run with them and bike with them. And we have such a wonderful facility at Chugiak that we thought it was a great place to introduce the sport.”
Summers said she is not sure if participation in dryland racing and training is increasing because of the interest in the sport – or out of necessity – “We’ve had such dismal snow,” she added. Either way, it is a boon for the club, which has been able to expand beyond a mushing-only mentality – and the dogs that get to take part, who are no longer bored in the off-season.
The series of races concludes with the Speedy Glass Dog Derby on Oct. 8 and 9, and includes a $2,000 purse. Summers said businesses have been beyond supportive – after all, dog is man’s best friend and most people are happy to support the sport. Not only has Speedy Glass donated, but also the Trek Store in Anchorage is a sponsor and offering a prize of a brand-new bikejor-friendly bicycle. Photographer Britt Coon has helped document the growing sport with her photography business, and others in Chugiak, Eagle River and Anchorage are quick to help.
“Everyone has been so supportive,” Summers said.
The races all take place at the Beach Lake Sled Dog Trails two-mile trail, and International Sled Dog Racing Association rules will be followed. You have to be a CDMA member to take part in the races, and can join as you make your entry. Go to the club website to register, and remember – the race series is a great place to try out any one of the categories for the first time.
“For the Speedy Glass Dog Derby, though,” Summers said, “You might want to have tried it once or twice. That one gets a little competitive.
For more details, go to www.chugiakdogmushers.com/DrylandRaceInformation.html
— Melissa DeVaughn