Dog-sled racing returns to Colorado’s Grand Mesa this weekend
WHAT: Guild Mortgage Grand Mesa Summit Challenge
WHEN: Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 7-8, starting at 8:30 a.m.
WHERE: Mesa Top Trailhead, Grand Mesa
COST: Free to watch
For almost a decade, dogs and their humans have been mushing on Grand Mesa as part of the Guild Mortgage Grand Mesa Summit Challenge. This year’s competition is set for Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 7-8. Spectators may watch for free, and it’s an International Sled Dog Racing Association sanctioned event.
“It’s something that the racers and dogs look forward to every year,” said Lynn Whipple, president of Rocky Mountain Sled Dog Club. “It’s a scenic and fun trail.
“These dogs love working together and it takes you to another level in your relationship with your dog.”
The event includes dog-sled racing and skijoring; registration ranges from $25-45. The course is located at Mesa Top Trail off Highway 65, near Lands End Road. For safety reasons, organizers ask that spectators leave their pets at home.
Races start on Saturday, Feb. 7, at 8:30 a.m. with eight-dog teams running an eight-mile course. Following the eight-dog races, six-dog teams will run six miles, and the two-dog skijoring teams with compete next. To end the day, four-dog teams and one-dog skijoring teams will race on a four-mile course. Sunday offers the same schedule. Racing is expected to conclude at 1 p.m. both days.
There will be separate classes for serious competitors, juniors and sportsman. Those are then divided up between pure-bred huskies and mixed-breed categories. A $3,000 purse will be divided up between winners.
Volunteers are still needed for the races — to prepare the dogs and help the mushers to the starting line.
WANT TO GET INVOLVED?
To learn more about dog-sled racing, Rocky Mountain Sled Dog Club encourages spectators to ask lots of questions and attend this weekend’s event.
Whipple has been racing since the mid-1980s. She trains with German short-haired pointer crosses, but it is common to race with huskies as well.
Whipple said dogs have a natural instinct to pull, so it is a good way for the dogs to burn energy productively.
“They give 120 percent,” Whipple said. “They just expect some TLC and good nutrition at the end of the day.”
Plus, any larger-breed dog who is able to pull and withstand long-distance running can be a sled or skijoring dog, she added.
WHAT IS SKIJORING?
According to Rocky Mountain Sled Dog Club, “skijoring is a Scandinavian sport where one or two dogs pull a skier who is cross-country or skate skiing behind the dogs. The dog and skier each wear a harness and a line with an elastic component that connects the two.”
Grand Junction resident Steve Bethka has been skijoring for the past 12 years and plans to race this weekend.
“The dogs really look forward to it,” he said. “It’s fun to see the dogs take off and they are quite the athletes.”
Sled dogs can run at an average pace of 15 miles per hour, Bethka added, and they can run for nearly 10 miles.
Whipple is also a skijorer and competes her team as well.
“It’s like floating and a total adrenaline rush,” Whipple said. “It’s amazing how beautifully the canine and human work together.
“It’s a great way to get exercise.”
For more information, visit http://www.rmsdc.com.
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