Quest Musher Berkowitz Confident About Teams’ Future (UPDATED: Mackey Scratched)
Berkowitz, who has been a full-time musher since soon after graduating from high school, spent his early years running mid-distance races while soaking in knowledge from veteran Alaska mushers like Zack Steer and John Little.
He took the next step by buying Quest veteran Jon Little’s kennel three years ago. Little’s star dog, Solomon, fathered 23 of the 28 Apex dogs being run in this year’s Quest.
Berkowitz said the quality of the genetics of his kennel is hard to overstate.
“They’re dogs that are always happy, they always want to run and their recovery times are unbelievable,” he said. “They can rest for four hours and be ready to go again.”
Berkowitz said a focus on nutrition and training also are paying off.
He hired Ingebretsen, who had little mushing experience, because he wanted someone who would be fine working with a highly scripted program for developing the kennel. They do everything, from feeding dogs to scooping the yard.
“I really knew I wanted a guy who never ran dogs before,” he said. “I wanted a guy who would do whatever I said and wouldn’t do any different.”
Ingebretsen got interested in the sport after meeting a musher during a failed around-the-globe sailboat voyage, he said. He provided sled dog tours with a company in his native Norway briefly before being hired at Apex Kennel.
“I guess I’d see some dog mushing on TV, but where I’m from, it’s not really a thing,” Ingebretsen said. “I didn’t know it’s something someone like me could do.”
However, Ingebretsen has taken to mushing just fine. Berkowitz said he wouldn’t be surprised if his mushing partner challenged him on the trail ahead.
“I don’t know about that,” Ingebretsen said with a smile. “There’s a reason why there’s an A and B team.”
Berkowitz also said he’s more prepared for the 2013 Quest. He’s in better shape, losing 65 pounds after setting aside convenience store food for vegetables and lean protein.
He’s noticed a difference, zipping up hills his team would have crept over in the past.
“I was in bad shape,” he said. “I’d get off the sled and waddle to the car.”
Berkowitz said he’s got nine veteran dogs this year that are performing splendidly, along with five 2-year-old dogs that still are finding their way. He could have stacked his Quest team a little more but said it’s important for his kennel’s development to team young dogs with veterans.
In the years ahead, he said, the pairings are going to pay off.
“I’m looking at next year’s team — and you can quote me on this — that team will be unstoppable,” he said.