MCCALL, Idaho — The Idaho Sled Dog Challenge is returning to McCall starting January 28 during the 2020 McCall Winter Carnival.
Celebrating its third consecutive year, the race features world-class mushers. It is the only 300-mile Yukon Quest qualifier in the lower 48 and one of only three such events in the contiguous continental U.S. states for the Iditarod. The Iditarod and the Yukon Quest are considered the longest and the toughest sled dog races in the world.
The Idaho Sled Dog Challenge is part of the Rocky Mountain Triple Crown, which also includes the Eagle Cap Extreme January 22-25 near Joseph, Oregon, and the Race to the Sky February 7-11 near Helena, Montana.
According to one of the principal volunteers and spokespersons, 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 says. "Our elevation change is 44,000 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."
In addition to the 300-mile Iditarod and Yukon qualifier, this year's Idaho Sled Dog Challenge offers a 100-mile race for people newer to the sport and a 37-mile race for juniors ages 14-17. The maximum 10 mushers have registered for the 300-mile race and eight of the 10 slots in the 100-mile race are spoken for, but no youths have signed up for the junior race yet. January 15 is the last day to register to race.
Idaho Sled Dog Challenge founder and organizer Jerry Wortley says this year's mushers include Iditarod and Yukon Quest veterans, as well as 2018 and 2019 ISDC 300-mile-race champions Jessie Royer and Brett Bruggeman, both from Montana. Royer is one the mushing world's top contenders and placed third in the 2019 Iditarod. Two Idahoans -- Kevin Daugherty from McCall and Chantelle Chase from New Plymouth -- are competing in the 100-mile race.
Wortley says his race boasts top-notch veterinarians, too. "We have some great vets from the West Central Mountains and from the Boise area and they've all worked on the Iditarod," he says. "As part of our safety regimen we insist on great dog care, so we have a lot of medical talent. We want to see the sport flourish, and we can't do that without taking good care of our animals."
Several race events are open to the public and free of charge, including:
* Meet the mushers -- Jan. 28 at 6 p.m. in the lower level of the Idaho First Bank building at 475 Deinhard Lane in McCall
* 300-mile start -- Jan. 29 at 11 a.m. at the Little Ski Hill at 3635 Highway 55 just three miles northwest of McCall
* Junior race start -- Jan. 30 at 11 a.m. at the Little Ski Hill (no youths have signed up for the junior race as of press time)
* 100-mile race start -- Jan. 30 at 11:15 a.m. at the Little Ski Hill
* Junior race finish -- Jan. 30 at the Wye Checkpoint and Campground on Highway 95 in New Meadows (no youths have signed up for the junior race as of press time)
* 100-mile race finish -- early morning Jan. 31 at Van Wyck State Park in Cascade
* 300-mile race finish -- from early evening Jan. 31 to late morning Feb. 1 at the Little Ski Hill
Spectators can follow the race online day or night via GPS sled trackers or by visiting five road-accessible checkpoints. Click here for checkpoint locations, driving directions, a local resources guide, musher bios, and more.
The 100-mile race finishes in Cascade and this year's 300-mile race includes a Smiths Ferry checkpoint, allowing Treasure Valley and Magic Valley residents to experience the race without trekking to McCall or New Meadows.
Race officials expect mushers and their teams to reach the Smiths Ferry checkpoint January 30 late in the morning and throughout the afternoon. Cascade spectators can catch the dogs and sleds in action January 29 late in the evening and throughout the night, and on January 31 they can watch the 100-mile race finish early in the morning and watch the 300-mile racers pass the checkpoint throughout the day.
Estimated checkpoints times can vary by many hours depending on trail conditions, so race officials encourage spectators to monitor the trackers when planning checkpoint visits.
Organizers are also hosting an awards banquet and silent auction February 1 at 6 p.m. at the Northfork Lodge at 200 Scott St. in McCall. The event features guest speaker Bob Long, winner of the Mongol Derby, the world's longest horse race. The event is open to the public, too, with tickets costing $35 and available at the ISDC website.
The race is seeking volunteers to help with everything from handling dogs to managing parking, setting up and staffing checkpoints, providing food, operating ham radios, putting up fencing, moving hay bales, and assisting at the start and finish lines. Visit here for a list of available positions and to sign up.
Wortley is seeking sponsors to help bankroll the race, too. In addition to committing to sustaining sponsorships or donating a set amount or underwriting specific needs like the awards banquet or groomer fuel or equipment, individuals and organizations can sponsor sections of the 300-mile or 100-mile races for $30 per mile.
A veteran backcountry pilot, longtime member of the Iditarod Air Force, and logistics volunteer for the Last Great Race on Earth, Wortley is also selling what he bills as the "ultimate Alaska experience" to help fund the Idaho Sled Dog Challenge.
The trip for two to the 2020 Iditarod this March 6-9 costs $6,500 and includes three nights at the Lakefront Hotel in Anchorage, VIP passes to the race's ceremonial start, a ski plane trip to Willow and back for the official start, one night's stay at Grizzly Joe's Fish Creek Lodge in the remote Alaska wilderness to watch the teams along the trail, and an evening snowmobile ride to the Lake Creek checkpoint to see the teams pass by and to enjoy the festivities and bonfire there.
Wortley has already sold one of two trips available. Click here for more trip details.