Mush: Get ready for the Grand Mesa Summit Challenge Sled Dog Race
WANT TO SKIJORE?
According to Jesse Miltier and Steve Bethka, both Grand Junction residents and members of the Rocky Mountain Sled Dog Club, skijoring is a great way to get involved with the regional group.
“I cross-country ski with and without dogs,” Bethka explained. “It’s so much fun and easier with my dogs helping me.”
Skijoring is “one of the fastest growing sled dog sports,” Sleddogcentral.com said. “With minimal skijor equipment, an eager dog and a pair of cross-country skis, you’re on your way! Just be sure dogs are welcome on the trails you use.”
Dogs of all sizes and breeds can participate in skijoring, too — 25 pounds and up.
“You’ll see all kinds of dogs up there,” Miltier said, including Rottweilers, mountain dogs, “just all kinds of athletic dogs that are competing.”
To get started, Bethka recommends visiting http://www.sleddogcentral.com for more information.
— Caitlin Row, GJ Free Press community editor
During the 15 minutes leading up to a sled dog race, excitement and chaos dominate.
“You hear a roar of dogs barking and people are rushing around,” Rocky Mountain Sled Dog Club member and racer Jesse Miltier said. “Whenever you start hooking dogs up in gang lines, the dogs just go wild.”
Miltier, a Grand Junction resident, also said the sheer energy of competition will blow spectators away this weekend at the Rocky Mountain Sled Dog Club’s 8th annual Grand Mesa Summit Challenge Sled Dog Race. It’s set for Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 25-26, on Grand Mesa. Racing on both days — including sled racing and skijoring — is scheduled to run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
This two-day event is staged from the Mesa Top Trail parking lot, organizers said. It’s found off Highway 65, near Lands End Road.
Spectators are encouraged to attend, Miltier noted. There will be a hot-food vendor and bathrooms. No family pets are allowed however; it’s to ensure animal safety.
“It’s the highest dog sled race in North America, on the world’s largest flat-topped mountain,” race organizer and Grand Junction resident Steve Bethka said. “The race is held at 10,500 feet and up.”
Participants will compete in five “serious” classes, Miltier said — in either four-dog (four miles), six-dog (six miles) and eight-dog (eight miles) sled racing. Those classes are broken into “mix breed/Alaskan Huskies” and “purebred class/mostly Siberians.”
There will also be a junior class for “young mushers,” who do a four-mile loop, he added, along with a sportsman class.
One- and two-dog skijoring — where dogs pull a racer on Nordic skis — is also part of the fun. Depending on the number of dogs, races are either four or six miles.
“Rocky Mountain sled dog events are taken quite seriously,” Miltier explained. “A $2,500 purse will be dispersed, and 40 competitors or more are expected. … This is an International Sled Dog Racing Association sanctioned sled dog race, with members competing for gold, silver, and bronze medals in each serious dog sledding and skijoring class.”
The other sled club in the area — Colorado Mountain Mushers — will compete at the event as well.
“Most people are in both clubs,” Miltier said. “Colorado Mountain Mushers have been extremely supportive.”
A GROUP OF DOG LOVERS
According to Bethka, men and women who participate in dog sports like sled racing and skijoring do it “because they love dogs.” He will be racing in the two-dog skijoring event, with dogs Bert and Cole.
“Everything is about the dogs — you feed them great diets and exercise them; they’re what we do it for,” Bethka said. “It’s not much fun (for participants) to push a sled by themselves.”
That’s why Miltier and his son Josh continue to race in sled dog competitions year after year. In fact, Miltier said he moved to Grand Junction from Virginia 13 years ago specifically to be more active in sled dog racing.
Though Miltier lives in Grand Junction, he rents land in Palisade where he houses his racing dogs — mixed-breed Alaskan huskies.
“In crossing working dogs, we got hybrid vigor in all of them,” he noted, which increases sprint racing speeds. “I’m definitely a dog fan.”
“Alaskan Huskies are a mix of several athletic breeds, including the German shorthaired pointer, coyote hounds, Siberian huskies, and whatever dog will run fast and pull in harness,” Miltier continued.
Josh Miltier, who’s in the U.S. Army and stationed out of state, also loves to visit his dad for sled events due to the “thrill” of racing (plus, it’s something they can do as a family). This will be Josh’s second year racing at the annual Grand Mesa event, and he’ll be participating in the six-dog race both days.
“Each year, this race gets better and better,” Miltier said.
For more information about the Rocky Mountain Sled Dog Club or the race, visit http://www.rmsdc.com.
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