As Quince Mountain plots his schedule for when his team will run and rest during his first Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, he said that he’ll be weighing his options for camping between checkpoints.
“If there is good enough snow and halfway decent weather, I’ll probably camp out on the trail quite a bit,” Mountain said on Saturday. “But it might just be that there is nowhere packed down to pull off. You can’t just stop in the middle of the trail and camp and no one can get by you, because they’re 6-feet deep in a snow drift.”
Mountain is one of a dozen rookie Iditarod mushers competing in the race for the first time. In interviews at the Iditarod ceremonial start in Anchorage on Saturday, some said they’ll be putting years of training, dreaming and hard work to the test as they race to the finish line in Nome. What was on many of their minds: The deep snow.
Mountain, from Wisconsin, is married to Blair Braverman, who completed her first Iditarod last year. Inspired by her finish, he said in his race bio, he decided to sign up for the 2020 Iditarod.
As far as this year’s snow, Mountain said, he’s packing wide runners for his sled for a little extra float on the trail.
Another rookie, Grayson Bruton, said he feels ready for a difficult, slow-moving trail after training his dog team along the Denali Highway in deep snow this winter.
Bruton is no stranger to the Iditarod. He spent the past four years working for three-time Iditarod champion Mitch Seavey. He’s taking a team of 13 two-year-old dogs and one five-year-old on this year’s trail.
“He’s one of the pinch hitters, if I get in a pinch out there,” Bruton said of his oldest sled dog. “I’ll use him as a leader, but other than that, we’re going to use all of the young dogs this year.”
With Seavey’s puppy team, Bruton said, his job is to give the dogs real race experience, including time at the front of the team. He’s also tasked with getting as many of them to the finish line as he can.
“They all take ‘gee, haw’ commands,” he said, referring to the voice commands to turn the team right or left. “They’re going to get rotated through the front.”
While Bruton is running a team from one of the sport’s most established kennels, Mille Porsild said she spent the race preseason building a team from scratch with dogs from DeeDee Jonrowe, Jeff King, Dean Osmar, Cim Smyth and Jessie Holmes.
“The challenge has been to basically create a team out of these guys, (so) that they consider themselves a unit, and a unit with me of course,” Porsild said. “That’s a different challenge than what I’ve run in the past, but it’s been a really gratifying experience.”
Originally from Denmark, Porsild got her start in adventure travel on Arctic expeditions and has raced dogs in Chukotka, Russia. She’s been around the Iditarod and sled dog racing for several years. She worked with 2018 Iditarod champion Joar Leifseth Ulsom.
For Fairbanks musher Riley Dyche, this year’s Iditarod is his second 1,000-mile race. He competed in the 2018 Yukon Quest and placed 11th out of 13 finishers.
He said he’s raised his team from puppies, and thinks they’re ready for this year’s trail conditions.
“I’m fine with a slow trail, we live in a really hilly area, my dogs are used to hard pulling,” he said. “We do glacier tours in chest-deep snow on the dogs all summer at 70 degrees. They’re used to punching around and slogging through deep snow. I’m alright with it, it’s going to be more work for me, but I guess I’ll stay warm that way.”
(Note: The Iditarod rookie count grew to 13 on Sunday afternoon. In a last-minute switch, two-time Yukon Quest champion John Schandelmeier subbed in for his wife, Zoya DeNure, due to health concerns. Schandelmeier has competed in the Iditarod once before: He started the 1993 race, but dropped out before reaching the finish line. The Iditarod still considers him a rookie.)
Alaska Public Media reporter Tegan Hanlon contributed to this story.