This year’s 28th Annual Pedigree Wyoming Stage Stop Sled Dog Race has ended. Packs of dogs ran hundreds of miles across western mountain terrain for more than a week and crossed the finish line Saturday outside Driggs, Idaho.
Anny Malo and her Canadian team took top honors for a record breaking fifth year in a row.
The Cowboy State’s sole team, led by musher Alix Crittenden, came in second — a personal best.
People and canines came from across the U.S. and the globe to compete for a chunk of the $165,000 purse. Some who return each year call their favorite race in the Lower 48.
‘It just keeps me coming back’
Racer Bruce Magnusson from Michigan stood with a group of handlers at the finish line at the Packsaddle Lake Trailhead as dog teams crossed the finish line one by one.
“This is my 18th year here,” Magnusson said. “The community’s awesome, the race is awesome. The people in the race – it’s the whole thing. It just keeps me coming back.”
Handler Brian Poulin, from Manatoba in Canada, stood next to him. He said he’d been a part of sled dog racing for half a century.
“My wife’s family had dogs their whole life,” Poulin said. “I got into it when I was about 12 or 13 years old … There’s no cure for this disease.”
A first-timer at the Stage Stop was Dean Weis from Minnesota.
“The views are unbelievable and so are the trails,” Weis said. “It’s a dream come true for us flatlanders who live in Minnesota that don’t see hills and mountains.”
‘I’m just part of the circus’
Haley Slone helps run the whole race. She walked around the finish line in Driggs with big white sunglasses and a fuzzy brown hat.
She said she’s known as the “race roustabout.”
“I do everything, I’m just part of the circus,” Slone said. “I jump around from thing to thing. I wear a cool hat and cool sunglasses and I do bag checks.”
Slone said she also makes sure mushers have the required safety gear before teams launch and checks to ensure they are carrying the right amount of weight.
As a team rounds the bend, Slone commented over the static of a walkie talkie that, “all ten dogs are there.”
“It’s the same amount [the musher] started with,” she explained. “If a dog starts limping or starts to look tired, they’ll pick ‘em up and put them in the basket of the slide and give them a free ride.”
Second place winner Alix Crittenden said one of her lead dogs got an injury on the first day of the race but said another pack leader, Juniper, helped them lead her team to second.
Crittenden said Juniper was especially strong during the Kemmerer run when another dog was getting distracted.
“June was like ‘Get over here, get over here,’ and one time she even booped the other leader with her nose and yanked really hard and was like ‘No, we’re running here!’’ Crittenden said. “Pretty cool to watch her do that.”
Juniper got a rest day on the last leg of the race. Crittenden said she was proud of all her dogs.
“These guys are so good I can’t believe they did what they just did,” Crittenden said.
Some dogs have run this race before. For others, it’s their first time, and many will be off on other races soon. After they finished they barked and howled with excitement.
Vets came by and checked them out, crew members and fans gave them pets and rubs, and some even got doggie massages.