MONTANA SLED DOG, INC.
(Race to the Sky 350 Mile Sled Dog Race)
by Pam Beckstrom
The first Race to the Sky began in 1986 in Helena, Montana. It was called the Governor’s Cup 500 Mile Sled Dog Race. We are now in our TWENTY-FIFTH year of running a distance dog sled race in the lower 48 states and we call ourselves Race to the Sky.
The race started out as a sixteen dog class that sometimes exceeded 500 miles in length, started in Helena, ran through a mountainous trail that crossed the Continental Divide several times at elevations of over 7,000 feet The race has drawn mushers from Wisconsin, Wyoming, Idaho, North Dakota, Minnesota, Colorado, Montana, Alaska, Washington, Massachusetts, Michigan, California, Utah, Oregon, Canada, England, France, Massachusetts, and the Northwest Territories.
A shorter, ten dog class race covering 250 miles was added in 1990 with great success. In 1992, the mileage was increased to 300 miles. The organizers kept the 500 mile trail the same.
In 1998, the race was changed to a 350 mile continuous race starting at Camp Rimini and finishing under the huge finish archway near Lincoln. Race to the Sky has always been an Iditarod qualifier.
The Race to the Sky commemorates the United States Army War Dog Reception and Training Center of the early 1940’s. This base camp just outside of Helena, was used by enlisted men to train dogs for military purposes—such as the invasion of Norway, search and rescue missions, and hauling freight. The Race to the Sky now travels over many of the same miles during the 350 mile competition.
This race was originally called the Governor’s Cup 500 Mile Sled Dog Race. During Montana’s Centennial year, the race was temporarily named the Montana Centennial Sled Dog Race so that it could be added to a circuit of races in Montana (in 1988). In 1989, the race sought a name that would more accurately depict the mountainous trail climbs that seem to go to the sky. Thus the name Race to the Sky was submitted and voted to be the new permanent name for Montana’s long distance race.
Men, women, and children love dog mushng. We have seen as many as 10,000 people at the race start on a Saturday afternoon in February. We owe much of our success to the hundreds of past volunteers that have donated their time, energy, talents, and resources to this race.
Winning the Race to the Sky requires day and night travel for four to five days, careful attention to the health of the dog team, and vigilant strategy. The Race to the Sky exemplifies the honesty and beauty of the relationship between man and dog. The trail is run on excellent dog care, trust, and discipline—a winning combination.
Race veterinarians assist with Race to the Sky each year who are International Sled Dog Veterinary Medical Association members. These veterinarians are in charge of keeping all the racing dogs healthy and well cared for with the help of the mashers. They are specially trained to deal with any issues that sled dogs may have as these racing athletes do have special needs over pet dogs.
The Race to the Sky history wouldn’t be complete without discussing briefly the progress over the years: an active race headquarters to going wi-fi this year, ham radio operators relying information between checkpoints to using cell phones and e-mail transmissions, great trail crew, “can-do” volunteers and sponsors, checkpoint food donated by local grocers and suppliers, host families to house mushers and teams, comprehensive media coverage, up-to-the minute coverage on the race site, with times and late-breaking stories, continued state-of-the-art veterinary support, great race marshals, and gps tracking (this year). The newest addition was the Junior Race to the Sky added in this twenty-fifth year. Youngsters ages 12-16 raced day and night to finish their 100mile race and they came from Michigan, Montana, and Washington. Five junior mushers took home prizes valued at close to $4,000 for their mushing debut. By the end of their race, the race marshals (Jack and I) were completely jazzed about the new generation of mushers. The dog care and comraderie between these young mushers was enough to bring tears at the awards ceremony. We have some awesome young mushers getting into distance racing and we can be proud of their abilities and expertise in the field.
The ingredients for the Race to the Sky are pretty simple—an army of devoted volunteers, thousands of hours of planning, dedicated fans and mushers, and man’s best four-legged friends.
It’s not only a good race—it is a great race and one Jack and I are happy to have been associated with over the last 25 years!
The winners of the Race to the Sky have been, to date:
|Governor’s Cup 500 Mile Sled Dog Race|
|1986||Linwood Fiedler||formerly of Montana, now Alaska|
|1987||Mark Nordman||formerly of Minnesota, now Alaska|
|1988||Linwood Fiedler||formerly of Montana, now Alaska|
|Centennial Sled Dog Race|
|Race to the Sky 500 Mile|
|Race to the Sky 500 & 250 Mile|
|1991||Doug Swingley||Montana (500)|
|Kenny Hess||Montana (250)|
|1992||Greg Swingley||Montana (500)|
|Ray Gordon||Wyoming (250)|
|Race to the Sky 500 & 300 Mile|
|1993||Robin Jacobson||formerly of Minnesota, now Montana (500)|
|Frank Teasley||Wyoming (300)|
|1994||Jessie Royer||formerly of Montana, now Alaska (500)|
|Frank Teasley||Wyoming (300)|
|1995||Maria Hayashida||Wyoming (500)|
|Rusty Rise||Washington (300)|
|1996||Cliff Roberson||Washington (500)|
|Butch Parr||Montana (300)|
|Race to the Sky 350 Mile|
|1999||Jean LaCroix||France, then Alaska|
|2005||Cancelled||Due to icy trail conditions|
|2009||Rick Larson||Montana (we had a 200 mile race as well)|
Pam Beckstrom has been marshalling the Race To The Sky for the past 25 years and the author of a book telling the history of the race. The Race to the Sky is one of the world's most important sled dog races and a qualifier for the famous Iditarod in Alaska. Pam, along with her husband Jack own Adanac Sleds and equipment that makes some of the world's most famous sled and working dog equipment in the world. Their company owns, Zima the original X-Back harness, that was invented in Montana 53 years ago and still in production today. These harnesses are a standard within the sled dog community has often been copied, but has never been bettered and now available in the UK through Xtra dog.
For more details visit www.XtraDog.com.
The Zima X-Back harness was recently featured in the new film Call of the Wild 3D starring Christopher Lloyd.
Send your opinion of this story below