Open North American Sled Dog Championship kicks off

The Open North American Sled Dog Championship gets underway Friday (March 17) in Fairbanks. 23 mushers will compete for $40,000 in prize money over three days of sprint racing, with the fastest combined time winning.

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The field for this year’s ONAC, includes last year’s winner Buddy Streeper of Fort Nelson British Columbia and his wife Lina, who placed third in 2016, as well as local Roxy Wright, who came out of a 20-year retirement to take second in last year’s Open North American, and won the Fur Rondy in Anchorage last month. All races will start and finish at the Mushers Hall on Farmers Loop Road. Alaska Dog Mushers Association President Paula Ciniero said there will be no down town starts for the third year in row. She said conditions are too rough on Noyes Slough.

”The worst in three years,” Ciniero said. “We’ve got so much bank erosion, like big pieces of the bank in the middle of the trail. And we are not allowed to dump snow in the slew and there’s not enough to make ramps and things to get around it. It’s not safe for a big string of teams to run through.”

Ciniero said conditions are good on the trails around Mushers Hall, but heavy snow that fell late last month, has been a challenge to groom into a firm race trail.

”When you have a dump of 17 inches or however much we got, it kinda creates an air space,” Ciniero said. “So we’ve worked hard, we’ve gotten our big drag. We ran around with that. We’ve borrowed another drag. And I think we’ve got it in pretty good shape. The shoulders are are still soft.”

Ciniero asked that snow machines stay off the race trail, to keep it from being chewed up, and to prevent incidents like last weekend, when a snow machine hit a dog sled in a Limited North American race.

”Fortunately, nobody was hurt and no dogs were hurt and it was a four dog team,” Ciniero said. “Had it been a longer string, they would’ve hit the dogs. We hae long strings running really fast. And we just don’t wanna have any accidents.”

The Open North American gets underway with a 19.8 mile heat. Racers will go 20 miles again Saturday, and conclude with a 25 mile run Sunday.

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Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.