The 33rd Annual Iron Dog snowmachine race kicked off this weekend. While most racers come from Southcentral, a few are based out of the race’s halfway point in Nome. Shawn Pomrenke dredges for gold in the summer with his race partner Amos Cruise. Pomrenke says it’s been a long road to the race’s start line.
Challenging terrain is nothing new for Pomrenke. He’s spent every summer for the last decade skimming the seafloor for gold off Nome’s coast, work that’s put him in the spotlight of the Discovery Channel’s reality TV show Bering Sea Gold.
“You never know if you’re going to make $10 or you’re going to make $10,000 in a day,” Pomrenke said. “It’s the challenge of going out and looking for that treasure just sitting out there that draws me to gold mining.”
Pomrenke isn’t shy about winter either. He moved from Minnesota to Nome as a teenager and has spent every winter riding his snowmachine across western Alaska.
“It was just something fun and exciting to do and something to keep me busy during the winter up in Nome,” said Pomrenke
In the late nineties, he started racing competitively, placing first or second in all six races he entered. But he hasn’t raced since.
He says he took the nearly twenty year hiatus from racing to start a family.
“But now the kids are getting older and I have more time and more money, so I figured I’d do the Iron Dog,” Pomrenke said.
The money part of that equation is key. It costs $4,000 just to enter the Iron Dog, a hefty fee that doesn’t include the cost and upkeep of a race-ready snowmachine.
Pomrenke’s success in gold mining, along with some arm-twisting by his partner Amos [A-mus] Cruise of McGrath, helped convince him to enter this year’s race.
“Amos actually works for me through the summer,” said Pomrenke. “He’s the one that pushed me to get into the Iron Dog. He’s dreamed of doing it for a long time.”
Pomrenke says Iron Dog prep is more work than he ever imagined.
“Just trying to figure out what you need and what you don’t need and what you have to bring with you,” Pomrenke said. “And then figuring out how to pack all the required stuff plus all the stuff you need with you on the sled itself is a challenge in itself.”
But that’s not even the biggest challenge. He says it’s the snowmachine. Pomrenke and his partner are racing on 2016 Arctic Cat cross-country 6000s.
“I’ve never raced an Arctic Cat before, so it’s been a lot of trial and error figuring out what works and what doesn’t work,” Pomrenke said.
A third of all Iron Dog winners have raced on Arctic Cats. That’s second to Polaris, which has produced half of all race winners.
Despite being new to both Arctic Cats and the Iron Dog, Pomrenke and his partner Amos Cruise do hope to finish in the top ten.
“I don’t expect to go out there and win it the first year,” said Pomrenke. “But I do hope to do very well for my rookie year.”
Pomrenke and Cruise are expected to arrive at the halfway point in Nome tomorrow.
The first Iron Dog racers expected to finish in Fairbanks over the weekend.