Alaska’s official state sport
Dog mushing has been part of life in Alaska since its earliest days, long before it was a state or European explorers reached its shores. Despite the great distances between some rural communities, traveling by dog team is often still the best way to get around. Today, dog teams are used by rural residents who rely on teams to hunt and travel, weekend hobbyists who enjoy exploring the backcountry with man’s best friend, and Alaska’s version of elite sports celebrities — the competitors in the state’s big-name races.
The typical sled dog breed is Alaskan Husky — well-suited to the sport due to their endurance, speed, temperament, and ability to withstand extreme weather —though other breeds are sometimes used for racing and recreational dog mushing.
Experience it for yourself
For visitors, there are several ways to experience Alaska’s dog sledding culture:
Perhaps the easiest — yet still very exciting — way is to join the cheering fans at one of dozens of races held statewide each winter. Sprint races take place frequently, sometimes at designated dog mushing trails and tracks, other times on downtown streets during festivals or other big events. The start and finish lines of the state’s premier long-distance races are also exciting. The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race starts in downtown Anchorage in early March and finishes in Nome to the applause of thousands of spectators. The Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race covers 1,000 miles between Fairbanks and Whitehorse in February.
Tours, Demonstrations, & Hands-On Experiences
In communities across Alaska, tours are available year-round that allow guests to ride in a sled or cart behind the team or even mush their own team. These tours can range from a couple of hours to several days. The longer experiences include guided winter backcountry camping for the truly adventurous. Kennel tours are also common. Mushers take guests through their kennels to learn about the history of the sport, raising and training dog teams, go for a short ride, and of course – meet the dogs and puppies.
And you don’t have to visit in winter to enjoy a dog sled ride on the snow. In summer, some teams relocate to the tops of glaciers to continue training year-round. Guests can travel by helicopter to glacier camps for a truly amazing dog sled ride on the glacier’s ice and snow. These trips are popular shore excursions for cruise ship passengers and independent travelers alike. Prices can vary depending on duration of the tour, with kennel tours and demonstrations as the most affordable, and glacier dog sled and multi-day tours as the most expensive.