It’s not easy to find a good sled dog, this Gardnerville racer says
Finding a good sled dog team is like buying a new car, “only it’s more expensive, harder to drive and eats up a lot more fuel,” says musher Chris Miller of Gardner- ville, who is entered in the Markleeville sled dog races scheduled for this weekend.
Miller, 29, a 1988 Douglas High School graduate, said he has always been interested in the northern dog breeds and became involved in raising sled dogs after acquiring two Siberian huskies while living in Huntington Beach, Calif.
He returned to Carson Valley in 1994. Miller said he is prepared to focus on sled dog racing and training, with the eventual goal of entering the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Alaska.
Running Creek Sled Dogs, Miller’s team, consists of Siberian huskies, one of the breeds of choice for mushing, along with Alaskan malamutes, Samoyeds and Alaskan huskies, which aren’t technically a breed, but generally refer to northern-type mixed breeds.
“I do love the dogs. It’s an expensive hobby, though. Some guys spend their money on other things and I spend it on the dogs,” he said, explaining that a competitive dog team consists of eight animals.
Miller, who has worked as a wood craftsman and bartender, is recently divorced and the father of Kendra Marie, 22 months.
In between taking care of his daughter, racing and training the dogs and working in snow removal at the Lake, he gives dog sled rides in Hope Valley with tour operator Dotty Dennis, owner of Husky Express Tours.
Rides run a minimum of $90 for a one-hour tour. Sleds hold up to 375 pounds. Phone 782-3047 for more information.
In order to reach the point where he can compete in the Iditarod, Miller said he has a long way to go, both in acquiring and training dogs and building up a reputation as a successful racer. This is his fourth winter of racing, he said.
The Iditarod Sled Dog Race covers more than 1,049 miles from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska and may take nine days or more to run.
It was inspired by an event in 1925, when 20 drivers and dogs raced the Iditarod Trail from Anchorage to Nome, carrying vials of serum needed to prevent a diphtheria epidemic. It was called the “Great Race of Mercy” at the time.
Today, the first place prize is $50,000 and a new truck. The race is held in March.
“It’s the equivalent of going from here to San Diego and back,” Miller said.
In 1973, the first official year of the race, winner Dick Wilmarth took 20 days and won $12,000.
Famed musher Susan Butcher won the race in 1986, 1987, 1988 and 1990, averaging 11 days, give or take a few hours, and won $50,000 each time.
“This is an equal opportunity race,” Miller said. Because of the
time and expenses involved in training for the race as well as running the Iditarod itself, racing teams are sponsored by individuals and corporate supporters.
“You really need 40 or more dogs to compete in the Iditarod,” Miller said. “It’s no small endeavor.”
The winner in the 1997 race, three-time winner Martin Buser, completed the course in nine days. The longest time in the race was 15 days.
Miller said sled dog racing is slowly growing in popularity in the United States and may become an Olympic event in 2002.
While Canada is host to many of the biggest sled dog races, along with many countries in Europe and Scandanavia, the crown jewel in the U.S. racing is definitely the Iditarod.
This weekend, Miller and his Running Creek Sled Dogs will race in the Sierra Nevada Dog Driver’s 11th annual Canine Connection Sled Dog Races. Teams from California, Oregon, Washington and Nevada will compete for a share of the $2,000 purse. Staging area for the races is one mile west of the intersection of highways 88 and 89 in Hope Valley.
There will be seperate races for three-, four-, six- and eight-dog teams. Racing begins at 9:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday and should go until mid-afternoon.
For more information, call (916) 781-6107.
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