Yukon Quest Trail Puts Dog Sled Designs To The Test

On the Yukon Quest Trail, there are a few things mushers have to be especially picky about including a sturdy sled. Jumble ice near McCabe Creek, half way to Pelly Crossing is testing sled engineering this year.

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When he’s not running dogs, musher Cody Strathe builds dog sleds for a living.

“I built the same sled I built for about 10 people this year, but it’s a nice sled and it was originally my design for myself,” Strathe said.

Strathe built a smaller version of the same sled for Brent Sass, who says he changed out the runners and made a few tweaks in time for the race.

Denali Park musher Jeff King competes in the 2015 Yukon Quest. (Photo by Emily Schwing, KUAC - Fairbanks)
Denali Park musher Jeff King competes in the 2015 Yukon Quest. (Photo by Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks)

“I put some new foot pads on that are a little softer and I did extend my brake pad a little bit so I have a little bit more stopping power,” Sass said.

The smallest sled on the trail may be Jeff King’s. That design has a slightly shorter bed and rides high. King also tows a trailer behind him. Some mushers think it’s too hard to manage two sleds instead of one, but King scoffs at their skepticism.

“I shouldn’t be any more worried if I have built it well as somebody with long runners who is trying to carry the same amount of weight as I am only I am spreading it out into two sleds,” King said.

King’s sled was among many tested in rough jumble ice on the Yukon River half way to Pelly Crossing. The ever-reserved Joar Ulsom said simply “it was bad.”

“Some of it was really taller than the sled and you would punch you feet off the runners and the dogs would fall down into cracks and some necklines broke because the dogs fell and got dragged and one dog crashed into a big sheet of ice and the sled is just all over the place,” Ulsom said.

Ulsom had his sled shipped from Norway, but it almost didn’t arrive on time. He had to send a handler to Tok to pick it up the night before the race. He says he was up late that night putting it together.