Snowmachiner who hit sled dog team on Denali Highway was test rider for manufacturer Polaris

A Minnesota man was testing snowmachines for manufacturer Polaris Inc. when he struck a sled dog team Monday on the Denali Highway, killing three dogs and seriously injuring another, a spokesman for the Alaska State Troopers said Wednesday.

No charges or citations had been issued in the collision as of Wednesday, spokesman Austin McDaniel said.

Officials at Polaris are cooperating with law enforcement and conducting an internal investigation, said Jess Rogers, a spokeswoman for the company. She called the collision a “tragic accident” and expressed “our deep sympathies to the family that lost three of their beloved sled dogs.”

It was the second time in the past month that a snowmachine fatally struck a sled dog team on the road. Troopers plan to increase their presence in the area over the next few months in response to the back-to-back collisions, McDaniel said.

No people were injured in Monday’s collision, which took place in darkness roughly two miles east of Cantwell around 5:30 p.m., troopers said.

Mike Parker, who was driving a team of Chugiak musher Jim Lanier’s dogs, said in a statement that the “head-on collision” occurred as he was mushing back toward Cantwell, where the team’s truck was parked. The team had participated last weekend in the Alpine Creek Excursion Sled Dog Race, which stretches 64 miles from Cantwell to a lodge along the highway.

The snowmachine hit four of the dogs running at the front of the team of 12, killing one upon impact, Parker wrote in the statement. Another dog died shortly after and the third died as Parker and another musher headed to Wasilla for emergency veterinary care, he said.


The fourth dog, a 7-year-old named KitKat, is being treated for serious injuries but is expected to recover, Parker said.

“Words cannot describe how important and meaningful these animals are to me and the Laniers,” he wrote. “From a sled dog perspective, they were all fantastic leaders that have competed in Iditarod, won the Kobuk 440, and shined in countless other races. As companions, they were sweet gentle and full of personality.”

Parker has trained with Iditarod veteran Lanier’s kennel for two years.

The man riding the snowmachine that struck the dog team was not identified by troopers or Polaris.

In an email, Polaris spokeswoman Rogers said the company tests snowmachines at their facility in Roseau, Minnesota, as well as other areas including Alaska.

Employees responsible for testing snowmachines “are expert riders that have significant riding experience” and undergo detailed training for the job, she said. “They are required to follow our riding safety protocols, such as staying within posted speed limits, wearing proper riding gear, and abiding by regulations of the local area.”

The 135-mile Denali Highway is not maintained in winter and is popular among snowmachiners and dog teams.

Troopers plan to increase “proactive patrols along the Denali Highway over the next couple of months, so they’ll be out there looking for people operating any vehicle not sharing the trailway and checking on that and assuring public safety along that corridor,” McDaniel said Wednesday. Troopers may patrol by snowmachine, helicopter or plane, he said.

The state-owned road is viewed more as a trail or public land than a highway once seasonal maintenance ends, so it’s not subject to laws governing roadway use during the winter, he said. Actions such as driving while intoxicated or reckless driving are still illegal, but there are no posted speed limits, he said.

Mushers have long had safety concerns because of the high speeds of snowmachines on the road.

Two dogs from Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey’s team died and seven were injured last month when a snowmachine struck them along the highway. A Healy man was cited for negligent driving in the crash, troopers have said. Seavey was not running the team at the time. The musher involved was not seriously injured.

Tess Williams

Tess Williams is a reporter focusing on breaking news and public safety. Before joining the ADN in 2019, she was a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota. Contact her at twilliams@adn.com.