2022’s American Dog Derby: The oldest All-American dog race

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Team of huskies line up. Photo credit: Kela Munnerlyn

For over 100 years, the American Dog Derby has primarily taken place in Ashton, Idaho. Due to lack of snow this year, it took place in Bear Gulch on Feb. 18 and 19.

John Scafe has been on the committee of this event for 30 years. For the past eight years, he’s been the chairman.

“The snow we get helps us pick our location,” Scafe said.

Every year is different based on the amount of snowfall. This year, Ashton was especially low on snow, so Bear Gulch was the next best spot. Although there was enough snow for the race, it was very icy. The tracks were groomed Friday and Saturday. The large amount of ice on the tracks increased the chances of the sled dogs cutting their paws while racing.

“This can affect how the dogs race,” Scafe said. “It makes it harder for the mushers to control their sleds with how slick it is.”

A few dogs on each team wore green boots on their paws. This indicated that they had previous injuries. These coverings protected their paws and prevented further injuries.

Before the racing began, the mushers encouraged and excited their dogs. With this excitement came a lot of howling.

“You almost want to have earplugs,” Scafe said.

Once the dogs were at the starting line, the dogs increased their howling and jumping. They instantly silenced and focused when the race began.

This year, around 30 teams raced either the 4 mile, 11 mile or 28 mile races. Depending on the experience of the dogs, the teams are placed into different races.

“It’s like running a marathon,” Scafe said. “These dogs put thousands of hours into training, and they work their way up to how far they can race.”

On Friday, Matt Johnson placed first in the Heseman race, finishing with a 4:11 per mile pace, finishing the 20-mile race with a total time of 45:55.

Mary Christensen placed first in the 12-mile Novice Race on Friday, with a total time of 1:31:57, with a pace of 8:22 per mile. Along with Johnson and Christensen, the other winners were Jamie Johnson, with a time of 19:31 for the 4-mile Skijor race, Fernando Ramirez with a time of 1:58:17 in the 28-mile and Natalie Wilson with a time of 2:36:58 in the Cordingly race which consisted of a 40 mile run.

“I’ve been doing this forever,” said Debra Liddle, a musher who placed 7th in the Heseman Race on Friday. This race named after Everett Heseman involves the team of dogs running a distance of 20 miles.

According to Pet Keen, “The Siberian husky is the most popular of all the sled dogs.”

Most of the teams that raced had dogs of different breeds that are just as capable as huskies. All dogs were of medium to large sizes, with only a handful being huskies.

Next year, the American Dog Derby plans to take place back in Ashton.