Official Alaska State Sport
Mushers - There are two types: sprint mushers and
Sprint mushers run shorter courses at faster speeds than the
distance mushers who run the Iditarod or Yukon Quest.
The Iditarod Sled Dog Race, held every
first Saturday in March in Alaska since 1973, has popularized the sport. Mushers
come to Alaska from other parts of the United States, and have even won the event. Every
winter Europeans come to Fairbanks to train on the hundreds of miles of well-groomed
trails. The race as a ceremonial start in Anchorage, then the restart occurs
The 1,000 mile Yukon Quest
International Sled Dog Race is the biggest long-distance race of the year in Fairbanks.
Run in February, its trail ran in the Canada-to-Alaska direction in 1998 to commemorate
the 1898 Gold Rush, although it usually switches directions between Fairbanks and
Whitehorse, Canada, every year. Check out our February calendar for more
information on this year's race.
[Photograph of training run
for the Yukon Quest is courtesy of David Arlan Rogers]
There are two more major dog mushing events in Fairbanks, both held
in March. The first is the Limited North American Championship, a three-day series of
sprint sled dog and skijoring
(skiers pulled by dogs) races. Some excellent photographs of skijoring can be found from
links at the above site.
The second is the oldest continuously run sled dog race. It is the
Open North American Championship, a three-day series of races beginning and ending in
downtown Fairbanks, which draws the world's fastest mushers. Follow this
link for our dog mushing schedules.
For those really into dog mushing:
Many residents keep two or more dogs for recreational mushing,
Mushing is a year around activity. When there is no snow, mushers exercise and
train their dogs using sleds with wheels. Some mushers use a dog "merry-go-round," such as you would see on the Riverboat
Discovery trip, to keep the dogs in shape.
Sled dogs are kept in a "dog lot" or dog yard which resembles a miniature
dog village. Rows of dog houses line the streets, with each dog in its own house. The dogs
sleep, eat, or play with their neighbors, stealing bones or playfully biting a tail or
The dogs stay warm in the winter time with straw on the floor
inside each house. With insulated houses and naturally warm fur coats, the dogs' body heat
is enough to keep them cozy even in very low temperatures. In the summer, the houses act
as shade from the sun.
At least one tour company
offers dog mushing if you are here in the winter (snowmachine excursions as
Although the best time to see and learn about the sport of dog
mushing is during winter, if you are in Fairbanks in the summer, you can still visit
kennels, stop in at the Yukon Quest Trading
Co. store on Second and Cushman, and learn about the history of the sport through exhibits
at the UAF Museum, the Fairbanks Community Museum and the
Alaska Public Lands Information Center.
Many local dog mushers offer tours of their dog lots or even
rides in real dog sleds. (In summer, they attach wheels). For referrals, call the visitors
information center (456-5774) or the Yukon Quest
One good bet is Fairbanks musher Mary Shields, the first
woman to finish the
Iditarod and the author of several books about dogs and Alaskan living.
shown here with Jack (short for Jack-O-Lantern).
[Click to view larger]
She gives tours "Alaskan Tails of the Trail" of her kennel in Goldstream Valley (about 10 miles north of
Fairbanks), for $28 for adults and $22 for children under 12, reservations
required. Included in the two-hour
tour is a chance to meet her 10 playful huskies and learn about winter camping, sled dog
racing, training, feeding and winter survival gear. There is also coffee, tea and a light
Shields tours are every evening in the summer, with groups
limited to 20, but they are often much smaller. Her home is 15 minutes from the University
For transportation, call G.O. Shuttle, (907) 474-3847. To book a tour
of Shields' kennel, call ( 907-455-6469 ALASKA TIME) or email (email@example.com)
for information and tour schedule.
The Sun Dog Express gives dog sled tours,
winter only. However, in the summer they offer sample rides for $15 to
$25. Their summer season runs mid-May to mid-September.
range from $15 per person (with a discount for a group of 6 or more) for five
minutes, to a half-day mushing school for $250. with lots of
shorter less-expensive options in between. Get more information on
specific tours at
their web site. Their offices are located in the Beaver Sports Outdoor Center. For reservations, call
They are located directly behind Beaver Sports
on College Road. Tours are available by reservation all day Sunday and
Monday, Tuesday through Friday mornings and Saturdays closed. Call 479-6983 or email for more information. or visit
(see link above). Located just off the UAF Campus and on the bus route.
Another way to get some hands-on experience with dog mushing is to visit a feed
store, such as Cold Spot Feeds off of Farmers Loop, or Alaska Feed Company
on College Road. At a
feed store, personnel are available to answer your questions, give you tour references and
perhaps even introduce you to a real musher or two.
For a more complete experience, call ahead to reserve your space on a Tivi Evening Sled Dog Tour.
$30 (discounted summer rate, no transportation included), you get a tour of the grounds,
gardens, & fish ponds, followed by a full dinner and a ride in the
carries up to three
people pulled by a team of dogs. In 1999
visitors were treated with a preview showing of a dog mushing video in the
making, shown in the "Arena". Call ahead for reservations. Children's summer
rates range from $5 to $15.
For information, call (907) 474-8702.