CASCADE, Idaho - With Montana mushers Jessie Royer and Nicole Lombardi winning this year's 300-mile and 100-mile races, respectively, a trend officials have observed persists: Women continue to dominate the Idaho Sled Dog Challenge, event organizers said.
According to ISDC founder and organizer Jerry Wortley, women have won eight of the 10 races they've staged since the event's debut in 2018.
Royer won the inaugural race in 2018 - a sole 237-mile course, then called the McCall Ultra Sled Dog Challenge - and the 300-mile race in 2020. Canadian musher Jennifer Campeau won the 150-mile race in 2019, when the name was changed to the Idaho Sled Dog Challenge and it joined Oregon's Eagle Cap Extreme and Montana's Race to the Sky to form the Rocky Mountain Triple Crown. Idaho musher Laurie Warren won ISDC's 100-mile race in 2020. Montana musher Josi Thyr won the 300-mile race in 2022, and Lombardi won the 100-mile race.
Montana musher Brett Bruggeman and Idaho musher Kevin Daugherty are the only males to ever win Idaho Sled Dog Challenge races - the 300-mile race in 2019 and the 52-mile Warm Lake Stage Race in 2023, respectively.
Three Oregonians competed in the event.
The competition was cancelled in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The final race standings for this year's 300-mile race (266.5 total race miles) are:
The final race standings for this year's 100-mile race (102 total race miles) are:
Thyr and Stephensen captured first and second place, respectively, in the 2023 Eagle Cap Extreme's 200-mile race two weeks ago. And Lombardi, Reimer, and Fowler finished first, second, and third, respectively, in the Oregon event's 100-mile race. The Idaho Sled Dog Challenge, Eagle Cap Extreme, and Montana's Race to the Sky Feb. 11-14 comprise the Rocky Mountain Triple Crown.
The final race standings for this year's Warm Lake Stage Race (two 26-mile stages with the winner having the best average time):
Race marshal Rick Katucki explained how several mushers who finished later reached higher average speeds than some who finished earlier.
"The average speed is calculated using running time," Katucki said. "In a continuous-format race, which the Idaho Sled Dog Challenge uses, mushers may rest their teams as long as they want. A faster team that stays in the checkpoint longer can finish later than one that rests less. Sled dog racing has a large management and strategy component, and in this instance the mushers with the faster teams finished later because they miscalculated how long they needed to stay or perhaps their checkpoint routines were not as efficient and they didn't return to the trail as quickly as they might have. This is similar to a race car spending too much time at a pit stop."
This year's Idaho Sled Dog Challenge, the fifth annual occurrence, attracted teams from eight states and one Canadian province. There were several family connections among the competing mushers, including a married couple (Jana and Ryan Roberts in the Warm Lake Stage Race), a father and son (Rex and Bryce Mumford in the 300-mile race), and two brothers (Dallin and Wade Donaldson in the 100-mile race).
The Idaho Sled Dog Challenge features world-class mushers. It is the only 300-mile Yukon Quest qualifier in the lower 48 and one of only three such events for the Iditarod in the contiguous continental U.S. The Iditarod and the Yukon Quest are considered the longest and the toughest sled dog races in the world.
According to ISDC co-founder and trails coordinator Dave Looney, the Idaho race is considered one of the most grueling mushing competitions in the world due to its topography.
"Mushers will tell you this is a very, very atypical race," Looney said. "Our elevation change is 39,000 feet, which is greater than the Iditarod. They call it a 500-mile race packed into 300 miles. So the dog care and the pacing and the attention they have to pay to the terrain is really important, because there's a lot of up and down. One musher said the Idaho Sled Dog Challenge is like climbing Mt. Everest - twice."
The sixth annual Idaho Sled Dog Challenge is already on the calendar, with the Warm Lake Stage Race slated for Jan. 24-25, 2024, and the 300-mile and 100-mile races scheduled for Jan. 28-Feb. 1, 2024. The races operate under a special use permit from the U.S. Forest Service and is the recipient of an Idaho Travel Council grant secured by the McCall Area Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau.
Race organizers said the event couldn't be staged without the generous support of its many sponsors and volunteers. Visit idahosleddogchallenge.com to sign up as a sponsor or volunteer for the 2024 race.