Rondy World Championship sled dog race is on

Craig MedredAlaska Dispatch

Race officials announced Sunday that the 2013 Fur Rendezvous Open World Championship Sled Dog Race will go ahead, quelling fears that lack of snowfall could cancel the festival’s popular event.

Race marshals were on the trail Sunday assessing the situation, and they came back with good news. The Alaskan Sled Dog & Racing Association announced late Sunday that the race is officially on, despite copious amounts of rain and sleet splatting down across the Anchorage bowl this weekend. Good news arrived late Sunday night and early Monday when a new blanket of snow coated Anchorage.

“The rain did not hurt us and it actually did us some good,” John Rasmussen of the ASDRA told the Anchorage Daily News on Sunday. Rain added needed moisture to the snow, allowing it to firm up.

Rasmussen said race officials will decide in the coming days “exactly what route” mushers will take, citing a need for cool weather to keep conditions stable. Normally, the Rondy includes three consecutive days of 25-mile runs, but race officials could stage a shorter race if needed.

The race begins Friday with mushers competing for a $70,000 purse.

The announcement is sure to bring a sigh of relief to mushers and fans of Fur Rendezvous' world-renowned sled dog race, considered “the grandfather of all Alaska races,” according to Rondy’s website, beginning in 1946.  It has been voted “Best Event” numerous times by the International Sled Dog Racing Association. 

What makes the race so unique is the combination of distance and speed, according to Dr. Arleigh Reynolds, a senior scientist at Nestle Purina and a regular Rondy racer. Rondy sprint sled dogs are expected to work at 90 percent capacity for at about an hour and a half, far longer than the typical limited-class sprint dogs that work at the same capacity for only 12 to 30 minutes at a time. Fur Rondy dogs also must navigate a route through a city of nearly 300,000 residents, racing over multiple foot bridges, through tunnels, and on four-lane roadways -- all amid droves of spectators.

Fur Rondy is a 10-day festival in Anchorage that features a variety of events including snow sculpture contests, outhouse races, competitive snowball fighting, a hockey tournament, and much more. It’s a 77-year-old tradition in Alaska’s largest city.