Dog Mushers Concerned About Lack of Snow
Mushers making adjustments to keep dogs in racing shape
BIG LAKE - Dog mushers are on the move, but the sleds have been sidelined so far this winter.
“I've been here three months and I still have yet to get on the runners. I'm looking forward to that quite a bit,” said Alex Buetow, who is new to the sport.
With almost no snow going into December, some qualifying races for the Iditarod may have to be cancelled. That would affect rookie mushers like Buetow, who has to log a set number of miles during competitions before he can enter the Last Great Race.
“It's certainly in the back of my mind, but I'm just working with these dogs every day and taking care of them. If it snows it snows and we'll deal with it when the time comes,” said Buetow.
He’s working out of Apex Kennel run by Iditarod veteran Jake Berkowitz. The nearly non-existent snowpack means mushers like Berkowitz have to make some adjustments.
“My four-wheeler weighs 850 pounds, versus my sled when it's packed, 200 at the most, so you're definitely balancing the amount of training that you're doing with a sled versus a four-wheeler,” said Berkowitz.
His dog team treks 30 miles through rough terrain that’s usually a smooth ride on the snow. Friday’s clear skies made for a scenic but sub-zero run.
“You can see the dogs running in a cloud of their own breath,” said Berkowitz, with frost from his breath building up on his jacket collar. “It’s probably a crisp 20 below out today, especially in the swamp.”
The frigid, yet flake-less weather affects him more than the dogs.
“Being on a four-wheeler at 20 below with no snow, you've got to keep your spirits up. The dogs really don't mind it. They'd love to be running on snow but the cold never matters to them. This is what they're made for.”
The pups will have to go without powder for now, but with enough training they’ll be set for the season no matter what Mother Nature has in store.
One of the first races of the season, the Sheep Mountain 150, may have to be cancelled if Mother Nature doesn’t provide over the weekend. Organizers said they need a foot of snow in the area to keep the race on. They’ll make that decision on Tuesday, December 11.
Iditarod organizers said they’re not concerned this far out from the start of the race. Only one race in the 40 year history has been moved out of Anchorage because of problems with the snow. In 2003 the thousand-mile trek started in Fairbanks due to an early thaw in the Anchorage Bowl.