A Community of Dog Sledders Along the North ShoreBy Aliya Marxen
From Silver Bay to Grand Marais along the North Shore of Lake Superior, dog sledding binds communities together for winter fun and worthy causes.
If you are a dog, and in particular any dog that has thick fur and likes to pull a sled, the frosty forests of the North Shore must seem like heaven. Endless trails to bolt down, things to smell, wildlife to chase, is there anything that can bring a smile to your face quicker than a dog with tail wagging as he bounds about free?
Resident Sled Dogs Have The Most FunPerhaps the dogs that get the most enjoyment out of the long winter are our resident sled dogs. An entire community exists here on the North Shore of Lake Superior, of dogs and their mushers who race, share experiences, and raise money for good causes. From Silver Creek Sled Dogs in Silver Bay, to Points Unknown in Grand Marais, you have plenty of opportunities to experience the rush and wonder of dog sledding for yourself. And plenty of very comfortable accommodations too.
Sled Dogs Are Trained From BirthRegal and strong, sled dogs are trained from birth to do their job, and they love it! Many sled drivers have known their dogs from pups, forming a strong bond until they are almost as much a part of the pack as the dogs are. There can be up to 22 dogs on a team, though a number that high is fairly rare, with each dog holding an important role. They function much like a wolf pack, with a leader heading the way, and subsequent positions following.
Though many people with kennels up north do race professionally, quite a few also offer opportunities for anyone to go on a ride! Rides can vary anywhere from 1 hour to a full day trip, depending on the company. Some include a camped out lunch in the middle of the snowy forest, while others will let you try your hand at mushing yourself! Grand Marias Sled Dog Adventures even offers a full moon ride.
Beargrease Sled Dog MarathonOf course, racing is a huge part of sled dog culture. Here on the North Shore we have two races that take most of the focus, the Beargrease Marathon, and Mush for a Cure.
Founded in 1980, the Beargrease Marathon is the largest race run in the continental US. The race is named after John Beargrease, who was born in Beaver Bay as the son of an Anishanabe Chief in 1858. John and his brothers were known for delivering mail throughout the cold north for twenty years. Though they used many different modes of transportation to do so, John was most well known for his sled dogs.
Today the race stretches almost 400 miles, through checkpoints that are open to the public. People come on to cheer on the racers, share hot chocolate, and spend quality time around a fire. The race also features a cutest puppy contest, award banquets for both mid distance and marathon races, and a “Cub run”, a two mile race for young mushers to race their own dogs.
Mush for a CureThe other notable race is the much loved Mush for a Cure. Dedicated to raising awareness and funds to find a cure for breast cancer, Mush for a Cure was first run in 2007. It was founded by two women, Sue Prom who ran Pink Paddles, a foundation to raise money for breast cancer prevention, and Mary Black, who with her husband owns Black Magic Kennels. Putting their heads and skills together, they conceptualized and created the race we know today. Since its creation, Mush for a Cure has donated over $220,000 for breast cancer research.
The race itself is actually several races, from just over 3 miles, to just over 22 miles. Events also feature a pasta feed, a pancake breakfast, a head shaving party, and many more various events while you wait at the finish line. The award ceremony comes next, with awards for the top ten participants who receive the most pledges.
Dog sledding is a practice almost as old as the North Shore itself. It has evolved from a necessity to survive (and delivery of mail) to a much loved tradition the whole family can enjoy. Easily accessible to any who are interested, I highly recommend starting your own northern adventure, and perhaps try your hand at mushing a team of dogs in the process.