Going to the dogs

Sled-dog racing, skijoring coming to Grand Mesa this weekend

Lynn Whipple, the president of the Rocky Mountain Sled Dog Club, finished second last year in the six-dog race Grand Mesa Summit Challenge. This year’s event is Saturday and Sunday on Grand Mesa. Photo courtesy of Susan Jochum. See more of Jochum’s photos at http://www.sjochum.com.

Skijoring dogs love to run as Tom Bethka’s dogs demonstrate in the 
two-dog competition at last year’s Grand Mesa Summit Challenge. Photo courtesy of Susan Jochum. See more of Jochum’s photos at http://www.sjochum.com.

It’s going to be canines to the nines this weekend on Grand Mesa.

The eighth annual Grand Mesa Summit Challenge will bring teams from around the region to compete in sled dog and skijor races Saturday and Sunday. The racing, which is sponsored by Rocky Mountain Sled Dog Club and sanctioned by the International Sled Dog Racing Association, starts at 9 a.m. both days.

Montrose’s Lynn Whipple, president of Rocky Mountain Sled Dog Club, said the event is one of the best in the state.

“The terrain of Grand Mesa is absolutely phenomenal for dog sledding and skijoring,” she said in a news release. “Moderate elevation gains, fun and fast short climbs and descents, and plenty of snow creates ideal and scenic dog sledding and skijoring conditions amongst the big spruce and pines on the mesa top.”

“It is a popular spectator event where folks from all over the Western Slope can come watch the dog team’s race,” she added.

There will be four-, six- and eight-dog sled races, and skijoring with one- and two-dog teams. Distances are four miles, six miles and eight miles.

Skijoring is a Scandinavian sport where dogs pull a skier who is on regular cross-country skis or skate-skiing skis.

Laurie Brandt of Montrose has been competing in skijoring for four years.

“It’s a win-win situation,” she said. “(The dogs) win because they love to run, and you win because you’re going faster than you’ve ever gone on skis before.”

She races in the one-dog competition with her dog, Monte, and the two-dog race with Prancer and Samson.

Monte is a German shorthair pointer and Brandt says the breed is popular in skijoring.

The skier is pulled behind the dog or dogs via a bungee that is connected to a harness.

For veteran dog-sled musher Bruce Harper, the Grand Mesa event is one of the highlights of the season.

“It is awesome. The trail is absolutely gorgeous,” the Rifle man said.

Harper, who helped start the Grand Mesa Summit Challenge, took up the sport after taking photos for a magazine article on the sport 34 years ago.

“That’s all it took, and I’ve been racing ever since,” he said. “There’s nothing better in this universe than being on a trail in the wilderness with your dogs.”

He said it’s a great spectator sport, but as a race marshal he also said noncompetitors should leave their dogs at home, because they are a distraction to the race dogs.

Winners in skijoring and sled-dog races will be determined by points based on the two days.

Whipple said the event is as much about the dogs as it is about the competitors.

“The dogs thrive on this sport. They love to have a job, and they are very enthusiastic,” she said. “This sport offers a unique bonding between humans and canines as we work in the snow together to accomplish a job.”

Harper agrees, saying, “They live for this. Their life is eat, sleep and run.”

The races will be at the Mesa Top trail head on the west side of Colorado Highway 65 at the top of Grand Mesa, 20 miles north of Cedaredge.

For more information, please visit http://www.rmsdc.com.


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