Pedigree Stage Stop brings dogsledding to Kemmerer

Handlers prepare Bruce Magnusson's dogsled team at the Kemmerer leg of the Pedigree Stage Stop Race. Magnusson won the Kemmerer leg. (GAZETTE PHOTO / Michelle Tibbetts)

The 23rd annual Pedigree Stage Stop dog sled race made its way through town on Jan 28. It is the only race of its kind. The race takes place in both Wyoming and Idaho towns. The race officials changed the route this year because Evanston chose not to participate, so Kemmerer was the second stage stop this year. As a bonus, Kemmerer also hosted an additional 12 dogsled teams in the final leg of the Eukanuba 8-dog classic race.

Bruce Magnusson took first place in the Kemmerer leg of the Pedigree Stage Stop and Monica Magnusson won first place in the Eukanuba Classic. Monica happily accepted her Eukanuba award as the crowd surrounded the campfire following the race. She said she was thankful to everyone who helped her, as she held up her trophy. “After 13 years, finally we won overall,” Monica said. 

The starting line was bursting with energy as the 12 dog teams lined up. The dogs were pumped with adrenaline, knowing their chance to run was coming soon. Bystanders kept warm with hot chocolate and homemade chili.

The mild temperatures didn’t cause the canines to overheat, thanks to the frosty wind chill. The snow conditions were moderate due to a significant reduction in snow depth on the initial 7 miles of the trail, but the higher elevations had a healthy amount of the fluffy white stuff.

Bruce Magnusson won the Kemmerer leg with the fastest time, 4.29.10, an average speed of 12.9 mph. Jeff Conn’s team made a spectacular effort, coming in second place with “one of the best runs I have seen him do,” according to race commentator Jerry Bath. Alix Crittenden placed third, coming in just one minute and 20 seconds before Dennis Labonda in fourth place. Last year’s Stage Stop winner Lina Streeper fell behind Sunday, coming in 5th place. Streeper is currently holding the first place position overall with less than a five-minute lead. The youngest racer, 17-year-old Greta Thurston, finished strong in seventh place.

Bruce Magnusson (right) won the Kemmerer leg of the Stage Stop race on Sunday, Jan. 28. (GAZETTE PHOTO / Michelle Tibbetts)

Once all the teams had left the gate the action didn’t end. The mushers and handlers quickly got busy tending to their chores. Keeping the substitute dogs active and loose is an important part of maintaining a strong team. As spectators walked around the different teams’ stations, they saw what goes on behind the scenes. Many handlers were trimming dogs’ toenails, cleaning kennels, massaging oils into the dogs’ tired muscles, and taking the dogs on short runs. The five-woman veterinary team also made its rounds.

One incident was a true testament of the bond among competitors. During the Eukanuba classic race, Fernando Ramirez approached the starting line only to find one of his dog’s harnesses had broken. Without speaking a word to each other, Buddy Streeper, who was on the sidelines, quickly ran to the nearest team station and grabbed a replacement harness.

Buddy Streeper acts on instinct as Eukanuba racer Fernando Ramirez notices a dog’s harness has snapped at the starting line. Streeper quickly ran to grab another harness from a nearby crew, removed the broken harness, cast it aside and quickly attached the dog back on the line. Ramirez made it out in time and placed 5th in the Eukanuba 8-dog race. (GAZETTE PHOTO / Michelle Tibbetts)

“We are all crazy dog people,” Streeper said. “I could see he had a problem. We understand each other without even talking. I was able to get him off the line and safely secure a new harness on the dog.”

Ramirez could have easily just run the leg with only 7 dogs, but with the help of Streeper he kept his team intact and ran a strong race.

“Its a lot like the rodeo,” Streeper said. “Bull riders are best buddies, but when they are in the chute, it’s all business. When it’s all over, they brush the dust off each other’s backs and go back to being buddies. Essentially, we are the rodeo with dogs.”

Ben, a handler for Stage Stop racer Austin Forney, cares for the sled dogs at the Kemmerer leg of the Pedigree Stage Stop Race on Jan. 28. (GAZETTE PHOTO / Michelle Tibbetts)

Kemmerer had two junior mushers participate in the event this year. Aaron Salzman, age 10, and Indonesian exchange student Yuliyanti Seva, a KHS junior, were honored to be part of the musher teams.

Kemmerer’s junior mushers Yuliyanti Seva and Aaron Salzman greet a dog from another sled team. Seva and Salzman got to ride in the two-mile start of the race, held in Jackson Hole on Jan 26. (GAZETTE PHOTO / Michelle Tibbetts)

It was Salzman’s second time being a junior musher.

“I know what I am supposed to do this time around,” Salzman said. “It’s so much fun. I was happy I got to ride on the skis this year and not just in the bag.”

During the two-mile race held in Jackson on Day One, the junior mushers got to ride in the sled and steer while riding on the skis with the driver.

“Everything is new to me, so every part of it I love,” Seva said. “It’s awesome for me. I like being here, but it’s cold.”

The mushers and dog teams gathered at the Triangle following the race for a meet and greet sponsored by the Main Street Committee. Hot chocolate and cookies were served as folks congregated around the warm fire pit.

The racers were scheduled to head over to Big Piney later on Sunday to prepare for Stage 3. Unfortunately, the officials felt the trail had deteriorated, and they cancelled the Big Piney Stage. The teams used the day to rest, and Stage 4 in Pinedale was a success. Better snow cover made it easy for the competitors to get back in the race without any additional setbacks.

As the teams prepare for Lander, the standings are as follows. Lina Streeper is in the lead with first place, and Bruce Magnusson keeps the pressure on in second place. Dave Torgerson holds third, Alix Crittenden is in fourth place and Jeff Conn is in fifth place.

The teams travel to Lander for Stage 5 on Feb 1, Stage 6 in Driggs, Idaho, on Feb 2, and back to Jackson to finish the race on a new trail in Gros Ventre Range in Teton County on Feb 3.