Kemmerer hosts dinner, race for sled dog teams

A sled dog race participant competes in the Kemmerer leg of the 29th annual Pedigree Stage Stop Race on Thursday, Jan. 31. Mushers and their trusty canines were in town the night before for a dinner celebration at the local event center. (GAZETTE PHOTO/Rana Jones)

KEMMERER — More than 50 guests poured into the South Lincoln Training and Events Center to meet the sled dog mushers of the 29th annual Pedigree Stage Stop Race for a mushers dinner the night before the Kemmerer leg of the race, Wednesday, Jan. 30. This year’s race consisted of seven legs in which racers competed for the title of “Stage Stop Champion.”

Beginning in Jackson, teams travel 225 miles across rugged mountains in Wyoming and finish the seventh stage of the race in Driggs, Idaho.

The parking lot at the event center held an assortment of vehicles and musher trailers but one rig stood out among them all. French competitor Remy Coste shipped his blue van, which is the size of a bus, from Europe. It serves as a kennel for his dogs and living quarters for him.

The effort to fly 31 dogs and ship a van and gear across the Atlantic Ocean paid off. Although competition was stiff, he won the 27.5-mile stage five, the Kemmerer leg of the race, at the Ham’s Fork trail with a time of 1:39:08, giving him an average speed of 16.6 miles per hour. The completion of the Kemmerer race put Coste as the winner of four out of five stages, holding a 00:07:13 lead over defending champion Anny Malo.

Winning the Kemmerer race, Coste was awarded Kemmerer’s signature prize of a fossilized fish that was presented to him by Trista Gordon, stage chairperson for Kemmerer event center director.

A top racer in Europe for many years, Coste is a newcomer to the stage stop and North American racing. With his impressive performance, mushing fans worldwide are now focused on Wyoming. Coste commented on the area with a thick accent.

“The trail is nice,” he said, adding that he is enjoying Wyoming, and that each new town is unique and seemed like its own country.   

Race director Dan Carter spoke at the dinner and introduced the other mushers. Last year’s race winner and five-time stage stop champion Anny Malo introduced herself.

“I’m looking forward to the fish,” she said with a laugh. Although she did not win the fish fossil this year, she ran a good race, maintaining her second-place position. 

Last year’s fish winner and second place overall in 2023 was Wyoming sled dog musher, Alix Crittenden, who was out this year for medical issues. She recently had a seizure, which put her in the hospital where an MRI showed she had a tumor on her brain. Doctors were able to partially removed the tumor.

Crittenden’s understudy, Jess Moore, who has been learning from Crittenden, is filling in as musher and placed fourth in Kemmerer. Crittenden said when she learned that she had to sit out this year, she burst into tears.

“We have worked so hard for this” she said.

Crittenden has known Moore for years and said she has confidence in her to lead the dogs in a successful race.

Crittenden anxiously checked her watch while Moore and the dogs were out racing but she did pause for a photo with Kemmerer resident Brandi McCloud, who hosts the Wyoming sled team. McCloud said her family loves hosting, but this year was different, not having Crittenden stay with them.

“Over the years, Alix, her family and team have become part of our family and hold a very special and dear place in our hearts” she said.

Although Crittenden did not stay at her house this year, McCloud said she enjoyed having Moore and the team there and made her traditional cinnamon rolls and coffee for the group before the race. McCloud said Crittenden has a big battle ahead of her.

“She’s a warrior and a fighter,” McCloud said. “It’s an honor to call her my friend.” 

After the race, Moore said she felt good about the performance and her decision to run eight dogs. Due to the lower snow level, she decided to run fewer dogs, making it easier to set the snow hook to have more control. With some uphill sections on the trail and fast snow conditions, Moore said there were some crazy ups and downs — referring to more than just the trail conditions.

Moore said she was not prepared to hear about Crittenden’s health issues but stepped in for the team.

“This is what she wants,” Moore said. “I’m doing this for her.”

Crittenden has been a mentor to Moore and the two women are friends who have worked together for years.

“We both have put in so much work for this team. It is exhausting and amazing all at the same time,” Moore said.   

The local community rallied support for the mushers and a raffle at the dinner banquet raised money for next year’s race. Art tapestry was donated by Perspicacity’s Whim’s and the fossil fish prize was donated by Tynsky’s Fossil. 

Local fourth grader Henley Scherr was this year’s junior musher for Kemmerer. Scherr rode for a few miles in Jackson Hole with sled dogs and musher Chris Adkins. She said she now wants to be a race vet.

“I really like dogs, and I think being a vet will suit me really well,” she said.

Scherr’s favorite part of the event was riding on the sled pulled by 16 dogs. “I got to say ‘all right’ and the dogs knew that was the command to go,” she said.

As junior musher, Scherr modeled gear that mushers wear including mittens, parka and helmet. Mushers Sarah Tarlton and Laura Bontrager helped at the local school assembly where students could interact with the dogs and mushers. At the dinner event, Tarlton introduced herself and, laughing, said the kids would know her because it was her dog that pooped on the gym floor during the assembly.

Despite warmer temperatures and low snow levels, the Kemmerer leg of the race was a success and the competitors headed to Alpine for the next race. The final stage of the race was hosted in Driggs, Idaho. For race results and times visit www.wyomingstagestop.org.


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