Tomorrow may be Valentines Day but it is also the start of Montana’s oldest and most prestigious dogsledding events, Montana’s Race to the Sky. For the past 29 years, participants have raced 350 miles through the snowy Montana wilderness, enduring freezing conditions, wild animals with little sleep. This year a total of 20 mushers and dog teams will participate in the event’s three grueling races.
There are 8 teams signed up for the premier event—the 350 mile Iditarod qualifier. The race starts at historic Camp Rimini. (This is west of Helena and a short trip down our forest road and over the divide from us. You would need a snow mobile or dogsled to get over the road at this time of year) and ends at Elk Park, a few miles outside of Butte. The race restarts in Lincoln to do a 200 mile loop from Lincoln to Seeley Lake and back to Lincoln. 11 mushers are competing in the 100 mile adult race which runs from Lincoln to Seeley. Only 1 musher, 16 year old Spencer Bruggeman from Great Falls, will compete in the 100 mile Junior Race. Six racers are Montana natives, the rest come from as far away as Pennsylvania to compete in the race.
During World War II, Camp Rimini—the official start of the race played host to over 800 dogs. The dogs and mushers were training to take part in a planned invasion of Norway during World War II. The invasion was cancelled and the dogs were sent to Alaska, Canada and Greenland where they helped rescue downed aircraft and airmen. Race to the Sky was created, in part, to honor the soldiers and dogs of Camp Rimini. This year, during race festivities, the organization will be fundraising for U.S. War Dogs Chapter 1. This is a nonprofit which advocates on behalf of dogs serving with the U.S. military in the far corners of the globe.
Even if you don’t plan on running in the race there are lots of events and activities to enjoy. The festivities start Friday with a Vet Check at the Fairgrounds in Helena. That evening, there is a meet and greet and spaghetti feed at the Fairgrounds. Meanwhile, Lincoln is hosting something called the “Delectable Delights Contest” and a family friendly dance, which could make for a good last minute Valentine’s Day date, should you be in need of such a thing. The Race to the Sky 350 officially starts on Saturday at 10 p.m. at historic Camp Rimini, at the bottom of McDonald Pass, just outside Helena. The public is encouraged to come and cheer their favorite mushers. Follow the teams to Elk Park, Exit 138 off the interstate (Jefferson County, MT), 367 Lowland Road around 3:00 to watch the teams finish the first leg of the race and the 100 mile mushers taking part in their vet check. The restart is at 2:00pm in Lincoln on Sunday, and the 100 mile races start at 3:00pm on Sunday. The 350 mile awards ceremony takes place on Wednesday the 19, at XplorationWorks in Helena.
For more information visit the Race to the Sky website for a full schedule, race map and musher bios.
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