(Idaho Sled Dog Challenge Press Release CASCADE, Idaho Jan. 8, 2024)
Despite sled dog races canceling this winter from Minnesota to Oregon, the Idaho Sled Dog Challenge is still a go for later this month.
“Sled dog racing is a challenging sport often run in extreme weather conditions, but the absence of weather this winter has been an even greater challenge,” race founder and organizer Jerry Wortley said. “Although we are experiencing record low snow levels, trail conditions in Valley and Adams counties for the 2024 Idaho Sled Dog Challenge currently appear adequate to run the race, potentially with some modifications to the routes.”
And with more than 2 feet of snow in the first half of January, snow conditions have improved dramatically.
The 300-mile and 100-mile races start from the Lake Cascade Boat Ramp on Jan. 29. Mushers cross the ice, and traverse the West Central Mountains, so race officials are closely monitoring the ice depth.
The Ceremonial start in partnership with Brundage Mountain Resort occurs on Jan. 28 at the McCall Activity Barn, 141 Moonridge Dr., south of McCall. from 10 a.m. to noon. The Nordic Trails will be closed on the North Valley Trail and the loop trail around the Activity Barn for the sled dog ceremonial start. Valley County Pathways will provide a freshly groomed trail for mushers and sled dog teams courtesy of our groomer, Todd Clouser.
Parking at the ceremonial start is extremely limited and race organizers encourage spectators to ride the free shuttle from the Ridley’s parking lot to the Activity Barn that day, with service beginning at 9:30 a.m.
Follow the Idaho Sled Dog Challenge Facebook page at fb.com/IdahoSledDogChallenge for updates.
Celebrating its sixth year, the Idaho Sled Dog Challenge is unfolding independent of the McCall Winter Carnival for the first time. The latter event is transitioning this year from its former 10-day extravaganza that kicked off the last weekend of January to a three-day soirée at the end of February.
One of the most grueling mushing competitions on the planet due to its topography, the Idaho Sled Dog Challenge features world-class mushers. It is the only 300-mile Yukon Quest qualifier in the lower 48 and one of only three such events for the Iditarod in the contiguous continental U.S. The Iditarod and the Yukon Quest are considered the longest and the toughest sled dog races in the world.
“Mushers will tell you this is a very, very atypical race,” Idaho Sled Dog Challenge co-founder and trail coordinator Dave Looney said. “Our elevation change is 36,000 feet, which is greater than the Iditarod. They call it a 500-mile race packed into 300 miles. So the dog care and the pacing and the attention they have to pay to the terrain is really important, because there’s a lot of up and down. One musher said the Idaho Sled Dog Challenge is like climbing Mt. Everest — twice.”
The Idaho Sled Dog Challenge is part of the Rocky Mountain Triple Crown, which includes the Eagle Cap Extreme near Joseph, Ore. — which has been cancelled this winter due to lack of snow — and the Race to the Sky near Lincoln, Mont.
Currently six mushers are registered for the Idaho Sled Dog Challenge’s 300-mile race, seven are signed up for the 100-mile race, and eight are competing in the Warm Lake Stage Race. However, Wortley can see the musher field increasing with the Eagle Cap Extreme and Minnesota’s John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon being canceled this year.
Wortley said as an accommodation for teams that have trained and are now confronted with cancelation of other sled dog races. ISDC is not charging the higher registration fee that is normally assessed for late sign-ups. Teams have until Jan. 17 to register for the race to allow time for logistical support arrangements.
The Idaho Sled Dog Challenge operates under a special-use permit from the U.S. Forest Service, which allows for 25 mushers and dog teams between the 300-mile and 100-mile races. The permit allows for an extra 15 mushers to compete in the Warm Lake Stage Race.
Jessie Royer — who lives in Seeley Lake, Mont., and won the 300-mile race in 2018, 2020, and 2023 — is returning this year to defend her title. Born in Idaho and raised on a Montana cattle ranch, Royer is considered one of the mushing world’s top contenders, has finished third in the Iditarod on multiple occasions, and has competed in the legendary race 21 times.
Nicole Lombardi — who hails from Lincoln, Mont., and won ISDC’s 100-mile race in 2022 and 2023 — is competing in the 100-mile race again this year.
The 2024 Idaho Sled Dog Challenge has attracted teams from six states, including its first-ever racer from Texas — Trace Drake from San Angelo, who’s competing in the 100-mile race and the Warm Lake Stage Race. The musher field also includes a mother and daughter, a father and son, and two brothers.
Three Idahoans are on the roster, including Preston-based Bryce Mumford, who won the Eagle Cap Extreme’s 200-mile race in 2017 and is vying again in the ISDC’s 300-mile race along with his father, Rex Mumford, from Huntsville, Utah. And Middleton mother and daughter Elizabeth and Caroline Nevills are competing in the Warm Lake Stage Race.
The remaining mushers hail from California, Montana, Oregon, and Utah. Erik Oline from Seeley Lake, Mont., is returning for the 300-mile race after taking fourth place last year. Jesika Reimer from Emigrant Gap, Calif., who took second place in last year’s 100-mile race, will compete again in that event. Joining her are brothers Wade and Dallin Donaldson from Coalville, Utah, who took third and fourth place, respectively, in last year’s 100-mile race.
Meanwhile, Clayton Perry from Power, Mont., is returning for the 300-mile race, in which he competed in 2020 and 2022, and he’s entered this year’s Warm Lake Stage Race, too. And Dave Bush from Bend, Ore., has registered for the 300-mile race for the first time, having finished in fifth place in the 100-mile race in 2022.
Bino Fowler from Bend, Ore., returns to the 100-mile race again this year along with Morgan Anderson from Enterprise, Ore. Plus, Craig Anderson from Enterprise and Jane Devlin from Bend are competing in the Warm Lake Stage Race again.
Rounding out the Warm Lake Stage Race musher field are Charlotte Clawson from Corbett, Ore., and Hugo Antonucci from Adin, Calif.
ISDC will finalize the musher roster Jan. 17. Bios for the registered mushers are available on the website.
EXCEPTIONAL TRAIL GROOMING
Looney said they couldn’t stage the race without help from Valley County’s trail groomers and the local snowmobilers.
“Our race course has to be groomed, because there’s so much vertical that the dogs have trouble pulling sleds uphill in deep snow,” he said. “There’s a very symbiotic and extremely important relationship between race organizers and the trail groomers and local snowmobilers, who are very dedicated to helping keep the races going.
“Valley County grooms 500 miles of snowmobile trails, and the trails we utilize for the sled dog race are part of that network. We’re super grateful to be able to use them, and we stage the races midweek so we don’t compete with recreational snowmobilers during those coveted weekends. Valley County helps out a ton at the checkpoints, too, by grooming the rest areas for the dogs.”
FOLLOWING THE RACES
Spectators can follow the races online day and night via GPS sled trackers or by visiting five road-accessible checkpoints.
The 300-mile and 100-mile races start at the Lake Cascade checkpoint, with the former race finishing there, too, and the latter race finishing at the Wye Trailhead & Campground checkpoint near New Meadows. There are three other road-accessible checkpoints: the Little Ski Hill in McCall, the Platt Warming Hut on West Mountain Rd. in Donnelly, and Wellington Snow Park in Smiths Ferry. A sixth checkpoint at 3rd Fork Cabin is not accessible by road.
2024 RACE SCHEDULE
Race events that are open to the public and free of charge include:
* Meet musher Laurie Warren — Jan. 20 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Ponderosa Center at 1117 E. Lake St. in McCall.
* Warm Lake Stage Race start — Jan. 24 at North Shore Lodge & Resort at Warm Lake with vet checks at 9 a.m. and the leg one start time at 11 a.m.; the address is 175 N. Shoreline Dr. Cascade, ID (from Cascade take Warm Lake Rd. 26 miles east to Warm Lake).
* Warm Lake Stage Race finish — Leg two starts at 10 a.m. Jan. 25, with an early afternoon finish back at North Shore Lodge & Resort at Warm Lake.
* Ceremonial start in partnership with Brundage Mountain Resort — Jan. 28 at the McCall Activity Barn at 141 Moonridge Dr. in McCall from 10 a.m. to noon. Vet checks for teams competing in the 300-mile race will be held at 10 a.m. at the Ridley’s parking lot at 411 Deinhard Ln. in McCall. Vet checks for teams vying in the 100-mile race will be held at the McCall Activity Barn from 10 a.m. to noon. Parking at the ceremonial start is extremely limited and race organizers encourage spectators to ride the free shuttle from the Ridley’s parking lot to the Activity Barn that day, with service beginning at 9:30 a.m.
* Official race starts — Jan. 29 at 10 a.m. for the 300-mile race start and 2 p.m. for the 100-mile race start, both at the Lake Cascade boat ramp on Lake Cascade Parkway between Lakeshore Bar & Grill and Lake Cascade State Park’s Van Wyck Campground.
* 100-mile race finish — Expected between 6-10 a.m. Jan. 30 at the Wye Trailhead & Campground checkpoint off U.S. Route 95 about 6 miles west of New Meadows (turn east on Tamarack View Dr. at the Wye Trailhead sign).
* 300-mile race finish — Expected to begin around noon Jan. 31 and last throughout the afternoon at the Lake Cascade boat ramp.