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Fur Rondy sled dog race will happen, organizers say

  • Author: Beth Bragg
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published February 12, 2016

Despite an MIA winter that has made it impossible to drive sleds on Anchorage's mushing trails, the dog show is expected go on at this month's Fur Rendezvous.

The Fur Rendezvous World Championship Sled Dog Race will be held as scheduled Feb. 26-28 as long as the city doesn't get hit by a heat wave in the next two weeks, Fur Rondy executive director Jeff Barney said Friday.

"It looks like we'll be able to get it done — as long as we keep the temperatures where they're at and we don't get any 50-degree weather like we did last year," Barney said.

Because snow cover is so poor in some places, Barney said, five or six miles will be eliminated from the traditional 25-mile out-and-back route from Fourth Avenue to Far North Bicentennial Park.

Additionally, he said, Rondy will seek the city's permission to use a portion of the Tour of Anchorage ski trail near Campbell Airstrip.

Barney said Fur Rondy organizers were determined to have some kind of sled dog race this year, even if it was a short jaunt from Fourth Avenue to the Cordova Hill and back.

Warm weather and scant snow doomed last year's race, the centerpiece of Anchorage's winter festival. The race dates back to 1946 and has been canceled six times, but never twice in a row.

"We noticed it last year when we didn't have it, the economic impact it had on downtown," Barney said. "Our booster buttons didn't have a lot of sales last year, and I think that was attributed to no dogs on the avenue."

The shortened race will still be a world championship event, he said.

"We wanted to keep the integrity of the race," Barney said. "In years when they've had to shorten it to 19 or 20 miles, it still had that integrity.

"There was a chance that we would just go down to the Cordova hill and turn around there, and that would have been just an expedition. This will be an actual race."

Barney said race marshal Janet Clarke and a trail crew walked the trail Friday and they were surprised and encouraged by what they saw.

Even so, it will take a lot of work to get snow to spots where it's needed.

"A lot of snow's gotta be moved," said John Rasmussen, trail manager for the Alaskan Sled Dog and Racing Association.

Asked if any trail exists right now, Rasmussen laughed.

ASDRA has either canceled or relocated all of its races this season due to the lack of snow. Not a single dog team has trained, much less raced, on the Anchorage trails this season, Rasmussen said.

"There hasn't been a sole one out there," he said. "Just a lot of walkers and bicycles."

Current conditions are so marginal that bridges and overpasses on the Rondy trail are down to concrete in some places, Rasmussen said. And in some spots where there is snow or ice, things are almost as hard as concrete.

"Real, real hard," he said.

Rasmussen said he thinks the dogs will be fine. But the hard trail could pose challenges for dog drivers, especially those needing to stop a team with a snow hook.

In some places, "you don't have anything to hook into," Rasmussen said. "If you do get it in, you won't get it out."

As of Friday, 13 mushers had signed up for the race. Barney said he's hopeful the field will grow once the city OKs the modified race route.

Barney said organizers will create a trail with snow stockpiled by the city, which has collected and saved snow all winter for the Iditarod, Fur Rondy and the Iron Dog.

Moving and packing the snow will take a big effort, Barney acknowledged, but seeing dogs run down 4th Avenue is worth it.

"When I was a kid I remember the big thing was waking up and getting your parents and going down to the dog races," he said. "It's really important for Fur Rondy, and downtown too."

City workers will bring stockpiled snow to places that need it and volunteers will stomp it down to create a trail, Barney said.

"Whether it's my son's hockey team or not, we'll get it done," he said.

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