They’re labelled as the most difficult dog sled races in the world. The Yukon Quest which finished on Tuesday (in 9 days, 12 hours and 49 minutes), and the Iditarod Trail which commences on the 6 March cover over 1,000 miles of the Alaskan landscape.
From mushing across mountain ranges, frozen rivers, passing through dense forest and desolate tundra and with temperatures commonly falling to -50 C degrees with a wind chill factor of -70 C in gusts of upto 80km/hr, these two dog sled races are deemed as the toughest races in the world – and we can see why! The races can take up to 20 days to complete, with mushers packing up to 113kg of equipment and provisions and with checkpoints 322km miles apart it really is quite a feat! For a less dramatic and intense – and indeed long (!) experience, Transun guests are able to try mushing their very own team of huskies on one of our short breaks, across the Arctic terrain.
So to celebrate these simply amazing dog sledding races, here at Transun we have put together our top five facts about mushing.
1. The team
The team of dogs used in dog sledding include the ‘lead dogs’ which apply the musher’s commands, set the pace and ensure the correct direction of the sled. The ‘swing dogs’ which ensure the team follows the turns initiated by the lead dogs. And ‘wheel dogs’ which play the crucial role of pulling and steering the sled.
2. To mush or not to mush
To “mush” is in fact not often used during dog sledding as it is too soft-sounding. The word likely came from the early French explorers and the word “marche” (go, run). But the following commands are used in the dog sledding world;
HIKE!: Get moving
GEE! : Turn to the right
HAW!: Turn to the left
ON BY!: Pass another team or other distraction
3. Poodles not allowed!
The Siberian husky, Alaskan malamute and Alaskan Husky are the dog breeds allowed to compete in dog sledding competitions in cold climates as they have the right undercoat for the extreme cold weather conditions.
4. Conquering the South Pole
In 1911, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen used sled dogs to become the first person to reach the South Pole.
5. Sami influence on the Iditarod Trail
Balto, the jet-black husky, widely known for his heroic run to deliver the vital Diphtheria serum to Nome in 1925 (of which the Iditarod Trail is based on) was named after the Sami (the last indigenous population of Europe’s Arctic terrain) explorer Samuel Balto.
If you fancy experiencing a taster of this thrilling sport, our Northern Lights breaks allow our guests to experience mushing their own team. And who knows, perhaps your winning firework display would be the Aurora Borealis dancing overhead?