LITTLE, ROYER LEAD COPPER BASIN 300
By Craig Medred
Daily News Reporter
A newspaper reporter from the Kenai Peninsula and a Montanan who
has worked as a dog handler for Iditarod champs Doug Swingley and
Jeff King moved to the front of the Copper Basin 300 Sled Dog Race
The move by journalist Jon Little was not a big surprise. He led
this race briefly last year before being passed by eventual winner
Martin Buser and fading to fourth.
This time, Little followed veterans Hans Gatt of Atlin, British
Columbia, and DeeDee Jonrowe of Willow over the 60 miles of rolling
trail through the foothills of the Alaska Range from Lake Louise
to Sourdough, then grabbed the lead when they stopped to rest at
Many suspected Little just grabbed his dog food and took off to
rest his team away from the bustle of the checkpoint. There's about
40 miles of trail between Sourdough and the next checkpoint at Meier's
Lake, and the temperature Sunday night was a reasonable 10 below
with calm winds.
Little had been traveling with a pack of about half a dozen mushers
who got a chance to show their speed after the Copper Basin's mass
restart outside the Wolverine Lodge at Lake Louise at 10 a.m. Sunday.
Most of that bunch were easily recognizable names from past Copper
Basin races, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race or the Yukon Quest
International Sled Dog Race.
The surprise was Jessie Royer, the first musher to follow Little
out of Sourdough. A last-minute entrant whose hometown was listed
as Fairbanks, she is an unknown in Alaska distance racing.
Copper Basin race marshal Jon Van Zyle, an old Iditarod hand, had
never heard of her. Neither had a well-known Fairbanks musher reached
by phone there Sunday evening. But another musher chimed in that
he thought there was someone by that name who'd worked for three-time
Iditarod champ Jeff King.
On the telephone from his home Sunday night, King said the name
Jessie Royer is one you might expect to hear a lot more about in
He categorized her as a rough-and-tumble, home-schooled ''cowgirl''
from Montana with a yen for hard work and a way with animals.
''Her first sled-dog team,'' King joked, ''included a goat ... two
dogs and a goat.''
The goat and the shelties were, of course, just the start. She quickly
graduated to real sled dogs.
As a teenager, she was already working for the brothers Swingley,
two-time Iditarod champ Doug and his brother Greg.
She ran some of their dogs to victory in Montana's biggest sled-dog
competition, The Race to the Sky, when she was only 17 and several
times competed in the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon in Minnesota.
Several years back, King said, Royer and her mom opened a sled-dog
tour business near the Big Sky Ski Resort in Montana and managed
to turn that into a moneymaker.
''She's trained and paid her dog-food bills by doing that,'' he
King said he met the young musher around the fire at a campout during
the International Rocky Mountain Stage Stop Sled Dog Race a couple
of years ago.
''The more I talked with her, the more impressed I was with her,''
Always on the watch for good help, he immediately suggested Royer
come to work in the King family dog yard.
''She poohed-poohed me,'' King said. ''She said she had all the
work she needed.''
But after he won the Iditarod in 1998, Royer called and asked if
King still had a job opening. King said she spent 11 months working
for him and did a great job.
She left to start running dogs with young Cim Smyth of the notable
Smyth family of mushers from the Susitna Valley.
The young mushers, King said, have been living at four-time Iditarod
champ Susan Butcher's old place at Eureka all winter training dogs.
Whether it all pays off for them should be known sometime late today
when this $25,000 sled-dog tour of the Nelchina Basin ends where
it began on Saturday in Gakona.
Here's where the racers were Sunday evening:
Out of Sourdough: Little of Kasilof, 3:15 p.m.; Royer, 3:29 p.m.
Into Sourdough: Gatt, 3:05 p.m.; Jonrowe, 3:11 p.m.; Paul Gephardt
of Kasilof, 3:17 p.m.; Thomas Tetz of Carcross, Yukon Territory
3:29 p.m.; John Barron of Willow, 3:40 p.m.; Brian MacDougall of
Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, 3:46 p.m. Doug Grilliot of Willow,
3:47 p.m.; and Tony Willis of Anchorage, 3:48 p.m.
Out of Wolverine, all at 10 a.m.: Andy Willis of Willow, Christian
Clerc of East Wenatchee, Wash.; Bruno Baureis of Gakona; Cim Smyth
of Fairbanks, Eric Nyholm of Hope; Craig Tostenson of Copper Center;
Anna Bondgrenko of Chugiak; David Milne of Two Rivers; Larry Carroll
of Willow; Sonny King of Spartanburg, S.C.; Kevin Korteum of Spartanburg,
S.C.; Will Forsberg of Healy; Tony Blanford of Fairbanks; Bob Hempstead
of Kasilof; Caleb Banse of Sterling; Gus Guenther of Clam Gulch;
Andrew Lesh of Fairbanks; Jodi Stone of Fairbanks, Tim Robb of Fairbanks;
Edward De La Billiere of Willow; John Bramante of Kasilof; James
Wheeler of Kasilof; Michael King of Salcha; Dan Dent of Baltimore,
Md.; Braden Bennett of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory; Wendy Warren
of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory; Rick Wilson of Copper Center.