The last several winters in the Brainerd lakes area have been frustrating for snowmobilers and other outdoor enthusiasts who, up until the last couple of months, have had far too little snow to play in.
That frustration has been even greater for area sled dog owners, who make preparations year-round to race their teams during the winter. Even this winter, of the nine to 12 sled dog races typically run throughout the state, Maury Duval of Brainerd, a member of the Minnesota North Star Sled Dog Club, said only four club-sanctioned races will have been held this year by the time the snow melts.
But now, with excellent snow conditions, the Brainerd lakes area will for the first time play host to Lake-Land QUEST Pro/Am Sled Dog Races, an event planned for Saturday and Sunday at Lakeside Resort on South Long Lake. The public is invited to watch as professional and amateur mushers compete in several four-, five- , nine- and a half-mile races.
There is a $3,500 purse for the professional races and medals and premium dog food for the winners of the sport and junior classes. Duval, Lake-Land QUEST race organizer, said he and other volunteers plan to raise enough funds next year to offer $10,000 in the professional races next winter.
He said this will be the last sanctioned race in the state and one of the largest. More than 100 teams have signed up so far for the local sled dog race, which is open to professionals and those who race for sport. Duval was a race organizer for the annual sled dog races in Leader, which are no longer held there.
Snow conditions are excellent for the South Long Lake race, he said.
"The last three years in Minnesota had terrible snow conditions and the last three races (this season) have had poor snow," said Duval. "You'll see the fastest trail at the race. The harder the trail, the faster they go."
Sisters Jenaya (left), 10, Alexa, 15, and Miriah Duval, 12, will compete in the Lake-Land QUEST Pro/Am Sled Dog Races Saturday and Sunday on South Long Lake. So will their younger sister, Cierra, 8, and brother, Andre, 5. Their youngest sister, Faustina, 2, is too young to compete.
The races will be from 10 a.m. until about 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, starting and ending in front of the Lakeside Resort on South Long Lake. The races include 10-dog professional class, six- and four-dog professional and sport classes, three-dog junior class, two-dog junior class and skijoring. There will be concessions available on the ice.
Also offered will be the kid/mutt 100-yard dash. Parents are encouraged to bring their child, dog and a sled to compete Saturday.
Duval said their ultimate goal is to get more people interested in the sport, which would allow sled dog racing to grow in the Brainerd lakes area.
The Duvals all plan to be involved in Saturday's race. After all, like most people who participate in sled dog races, mushing is a family affair. While Maury will help run the event along with wife, Lezlie, five of their six children will compete during the races. Alexa, 15, plans to compete in the four-dog professional class, while Miriah, 12, will for the first time compete in the six-dog professional class. Jenaya, 10, will compete in the three-dog junior class while Cierra, 8, and Andre, 5, will compete in the two-dog junior class. Their daughter Faustina, who is only 2, is too young to compete.
"It's such a family atmosphere," said Lezlie Duval, of sled dog races. "It's a unique bunch of people. The mushers are very competitive, but they're always willing to help."
"This will be a very large race, it's the last race of the season," said Maury Duval.
Lezlie Duval said people would be amazed if they come and watch the large 10-dog teams take off together on the lake.
"When they start hooking up the 10-dog teams, the whole community will hear it," she said. "They're excited and ready to go."
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