Junior mushers ride in Pedigree Stage Stop race

GAZETTE PHOTOS / Michelle Tibbetts

Junior mushers Aaron Salzman and Ledger Ellis at the Pedigree Stage Stop race on Monday, Jan 28. The junior mushers rode on the sleds with the professional mushers at the opening ceremonies in Jackson last Friday.

KEMMERER — Monday morning the temperatures were ideal for the kickoff of the Kemmerer leg of the Pedigree Stage Stop Race. Many community members joined the mushers and kennel teams as they prepared for the next leg of the race.

The snow conditions were exceptional this year, which made for some of the fastest times on record for the Hamsfork trail. Traditionally many of the teams run the 34-mile Kemmerer leg in a little more than 2 hours. The top three winners all finished within a few seconds of each other, and all under 2 hours. Érick LaForce took first place with a time of 1.53.27, Anny Malo came in 2nd with a time of 1.53.54 and returning champion Lina Streeper finished 3rd with a time of 1.53.59.

This year’s local junior mushers Aaron Slazman and Ledger Ellis attended the Kemmerer leg in addition to riding in Jackson at the opening ceremonies.

“It was really awesome,” Ledger said. “I got to ride with Fernando and it was a great experience.” Ledger reflected on his ride, explaining how it was “crazy with all the dogs” in the Jackson town square.

“It felt kinda scary,” Ledger said. “We hit the turns really hard and fast and almost tipped over.” But Ledger is good at following directions, and quickly followed his musher and leaned his weight to keep the sled balanced. Ledger is the 2nd generation to run as a junior musher. His mother Anna Ellis was a junior musher in 2000.

“When I did it, they sent us out on our own,” Anna said. “After a few simple instructions she was given control of the dog team. “You met with them, he told you about it, told you the dogs’ names and off you went!” Anna said with a smile. “I was alone in the field until I crossed the finish line.”

Aaron Salzman is a seasoned junior musher — this is his third year in a row. He rode with defending champion Lina Streeper this year. “I was excited to do it again,” Aaron said. “I got to do a lot more, and I understand what is going on much better, too.” Aaron said he really enjoys hanging out with the 44 dogs on the Streeper team, and it surely made for lots of work. The junior mushers help the teams with feeding, cleaning and tending to the dogs.

Aaron’s mom Rosa explained they had traveled with the team for the past three days. “It has been so great to see him doing this again. Every year he does more and it’s a wonderful experience,” Rosa said. “Aaron has gained more confidence from this. He has the ability to go up to people and talk to them and ask questions now, it’s amazing.”

Mushers help calm the dogs at the starting line and keep them from getting tangled in their harnesses at the Pedigree Stage Stop race on Monday, Jan. 28.

Bluebird skies, little to no wind and 34 degrees kept everyone comfortable at the Kemmerer leg of the race. The warm climate in the afternoon and the freezing temperatures at night made a perfect recipe for a solid and fast trail. 

“There is a very limited window to see a temperature that is good for the dogs and the mushers and spectators,” said race musher Bud Streeper. “Today was that day, and we are super happy with everything so far.”

The racers all gathered at the town Triangle after the race to interact with locals who didn’t make it to the race. The teams traveled to Big Piney on Tuesday, with Lina Streeper winning the Big Piney leg with a time of 2:19:09, Amy Malo in second place with 2:24:47, and Érick LaForce in third place with a time of 2:25:41. The race was in Lander on Jan. 30, with Lina Streeper claiming first place on that leg with a time of 1:40.42. Then the race heads to Driggs, Idaho, and back to Jackson.

Defending Pedigree Stage Stop Race winner Lina Streeper takes off at the Kemmerer leg of the race on Monday, Jan. 28. The mushers said the Kemmerer trail conditions were perfect this year, making their race times some of the fastest on record.

Kalieh and Madieh McCloud volunteered to work the concession stand. The race gave out free hot cocoa and chili dogs to the mushers and bystanders. 

Junior Musher Aaron Salzman and his family at the start of the Pedigree Stage Stop Race.