CAMP RIPLEY — The North Star Dog Club hosted multiple sled-dog races in the first ever “Spirit of the North” Winter Warrior sled dog race held Feb. 16–17 on the grounds of Camp Ripley.
“Mushers and teams came from all over the state to take part in 10-, 25- and 40-mile races around the Camp Ripley Training Area,” said Camp Ripley spokesperson Maj. John Donovan.
“This two day event is new to the variety of activities conducted on Camp Ripley,” said Col. Scott. St. Sauver, post commander for Camp Ripley. “It’s exciting to watch the racers and teams test their skills in this challenging sport.”
Early risers were able to come out and enjoy the view from the grand stand while they sipped hot chocolate. The races started at 9 a.m. on both days and lasted through the early afternoon.
“It’s great having so many people out here to see what we do and learn about sled dogs,” said Bob Bzdok, an event co-organizer. “We are so pleased to be out here on Camp Ripley. It was great not having to worry about running into hazards on the trail.”
Most sled-dog races are held in state parks or along connecting trails accessible to snowmobilers and skiers. Occasionally, the sled-dog trails will cross roads which cause a safety hazard for the racers and their teams according to Bzdok. Although Camp Ripley is open to the public, the trails utilized by the racers were closed to foot and vehicle traffic.
Of course, the dogs are the most popular aspect of the sport.
“Most folks have never seen this kind of thing before; we get a lot of questions asking about how friendly the dogs are,” said club veterinarian Jerry Vanek. “They are excited athletes, but they’ll be just as happy to lick your face as anything else.”
The event, put on by the North Star Sled Dog Club, was the first of its kind in Morrison County and drew an estimated crowd of 500 people. According to Bzdok, everyone involved stressed how impressed they were with the support from Camp Ripley and the racers are looking forward to coming back next year.