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What powers Iditarod dogs over 1,000 unforgiving miles? Wild Alaska salmon, of course.

Yukon Quest winner Allan Moore and his wife, Iditarod top musher Aliy Zirkle, run a kennel in Two Rivers that's reliant on wild Alaska salmon -- by the tons -- to keep the dogs performance ready. Loren Holmes photo

Wild Alaska salmon, prized by many for its succulent flavor, versatility and nutritional value, is in its own way the unofficial Idita-snack!

Many veterans of the famed Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race say wild Alaska salmon is an important part of their racing team's diet. They prize it for its nutritional value, the enthusiasm of the dogs for devouring it, and most important, for warmer days on the trail, for its high water content.

"They like it, it's good for them, and it hydrates them," says Allen Moore, winner of the 2013 Yukon Quest Sled Dog Race and a contender in Iditarod 2013.

Moore and his wife, Aliy Zirkle, winner of the Yukon Quest in 2000 and a top contender in Iditarod 2013, packed some 50 salmon per team for snacking their huskies on the trail to Nome during warmer parts of the journey.

"We cut the fish into "Snicker bites," said Kaz Zirkle, Aliy's sister and a key member of the SP (Skunk's Place) Kennel Team in Two Rivers, near Fairbanks. During training season they go through at least a ton of whitefish and salmon, she said.

"I've always made a point of feeding a lot of fish," said Sebastian Schnuelle, a veteran of both the Yukon Quest and Iditarod, who is most well known there days for his Armchair Musher reports on the race from along the trail. "The dogs like it… and they do well on it," he said. "It's good for hydration and it cools them down."

Every musher has their own source, from harvesting their own fish to having a fish processor as a sponsor.

Iditarod veteran Ray Redington, of Knik, the grandson of Joe Redington Sr., the father of the famed sled dog race, routinely snacks his team with chunks of frozen salmon and packed several hundred pounds for the trail.

Back to back four-time Iditarod champion and four-time Yukon Quest champion Lance Mackey laughed when asked how much salmon he had sent out in trail bags for the trip to Nome.

"For me or the dogs?" he responded, smiling. In fact he had about 30 pounds of smoked salmon for himself and about 600 pounds of kings and chums for the team.

Iditarod veteran Paul Gebhardt of Kasilof, who packed about 400 pounds of salmon for the race, said he makes cubes of frozen salmon for trail snacks. A lot of his fish is donated by Snug Harbor Seafoods in Kenai. Gebhardt also has guide friends in the sport fishing industry who save king salmon heads for him, he said.

Mitch Seavey, of Seward, who won the Iditarod in 2004, packed about 300 pounds of salmon and sheefish for his dogs, plus a generous amount of smoked salmon for himself, he said.

The Seward branch of the Seavey family, which also includes Mitch's father, Dan, gets about 20,000 to 30,000 pounds of fish donated a year from the Seward facilities of Icicle Seafood, said Dan Seavey, another veteran of the Iditarod Trail.

Another Iditarod veteran, Scott Janssen, of Anchorage, packed 450 pounds of salmon for the trail, but unfortunately had to scratch from the race early on.

Janssen, who trains with Iditarod veteran Dean Osmar, said they also get a lot of salmon from processors.

Others, like Rudy Demoski, who is from Aniak but now lives in Wasilla, said he had only white fish to snack his dogs this year, but wished he did have salmon.

It was just hard to come by this year, he said.


You can reach Margaret Bauman with comments and suggestions atmbauman@thecordovatimes.com