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Idaho Sled Dog Challenge returns to McCall Winter Carnival

The event is one of the many featured at the winter carnival and will take place near Lake Cascade.

CASCADE, Idaho — The fourth annual Idaho Sled Dog Challenge will make its return on Jan. 30 and run until Feb. 3.

The event is one of the many featured at the McCall Winter Carnival and will take place at the Lake Cascade boat ramp between the Lakeshore Bar & Grill and the Van Wyck Campground.

The race is considered one of the most grueling mushing competitions in the world due to its topography, according to Dave Looney, one of the primary volunteers and spokespersons for the event.

"Mushers will tell you this is a very, very atypical race," Looney said. "Our elevation change is 36,000 feet, which is greater than the Iditarod. They call it a 500-mile race packed into 300 miles. So the dog care and the pacing and the attention they have to pay to the terrain is really important, because there's a lot of up and down. One musher said the Idaho Sled Dog Challenge is like climbing Mt. Everest -- twice."

The Idaho Sled Dog Challenge (ISDC) is the only 300-mile Yukon Quest qualifier in the contiguous continental U.S. and one of the three such events for the Iditarod in the lower 48. It is also viewed as one of the longest and toughest sled dog races in the world.

The race is part of the Rocky Mountain Triple Crown, which includes the Eagle Cap Extreme in Joseph, Oregon, and the Race to the Sky near Helena, Montana.

In addition to the 300-mile Iditarod and the Yukon Quest qualifier, this year's event also features a 100-mile race for those newer to the sport. The Junior race will not be taking place this year, organizers said. 

Jerry Wortley, event founder and organizer, said this year's mushers include top-notch Iditarod and Yukon Quest veterans, including the 2020 ISDC 300-mile-race champion, Jessie Royer. 

Teams from across seven different states are participating in this year's race, including the first mushing team from east of the Mississippi, Gregg and Bailey Vitello, a father and son duo from Milan, N.H. The remaining mushers come from Colorado, Montana, Oregon and Washington.

Six Idahoans are listed on this year's roster: Jed Stephensen from Sandpoint, Jacob McCowan from Priest River, Jeneen Loeliger-Myers from McCall, Elizabeth Nevills from Middleton, and a father-daughter duo, Bryce and Anna Mumford, from Preston.

Spectators can follow along with the race by day online, and GPS sled trackers by night; or by visiting any of the five road-accessible checkpoints.

"Watching and cheering for the teams along the trail as they arrive and depart the checkpoints and witnessing firsthand how the mushers care for their dogs as they get some much-deserved rest is an unforgettable experience," Wortley said.

Free race events open to the public:

  • Vet checks and meet the mushers - Jan. 30 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Lake Cascade boat ramp between Lakeshore Bar & Grill and the Van Wyck Campground
  • 300-mile start - Jan. 31 at 1 p.m. at the Lake Cascade boat ramp
  • 100-mile race start - Feb. 1 at 1 p.m. at the Lake Cascade boat ramp
  • 100-mile race finish - early morning Feb. 2 at the Wye Trailhead & Campground checkpoint off U.S. Route 95 about 6 miles west of New Meadows (turn east on Tamarack View Dr. at the Wye Trailhead sign) 
  • 300-mile race finish - Feb. 3 from early morning to midday at the Lake Cascade boat ramp

There is no event parking at the Lake Cascade checkpoint, so organizers have arranged for busses to shuttle spectators there from a nearby parking area. Wortley says to plan to arrive early and catch a bus, which run about every 20 minutes.

Volunteers are still needed and can sign up on through the website.

More about the Idaho Sled Dog Challenge from Idaho Today:

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