CASCADE, Idaho (KIFI) - The West Central Mountains of Idaho will reverberate with the thunderous spirit of sled dogs as the 2024 Idaho Sled Dog Challenge marks its sixth annual run, slated for the end of January as usual. However, this year's race charts a solo course, unfolding independent of the McCall Winter Carnival, which is shifting from a 10-day extravaganza kicking off the last weekend of January to a three-day soirée at the end of February.
The separate paths of these two iconic winter events add a new chapter to the region's seasonal narrative. Race organizers are both eager and anxious to break away from the familiar rhythm of past years and see the Idaho Sled Dog Challenge stand on its own.
"I'm hoping that separating the McCall Winter Carnival and the Idaho Sled Dog Challenge is a big benefit for our community, because now people will have to visit Valley County twice if they want to attend both events," race founder and organizer Jerry Wortley said. "We really hit our stride last year after several years of trial and error and we've got it pretty well dialed in now. The Idaho Sled Dog Challenge showcases the remarkable partnership that's possible between humans and canines and has become one of the West Central Mountains' most iconic winter events."
One of the most grueling mushing competitions on the planet due to its topography, the Idaho Sled Dog Challenge features world-class mushers. It is the only 300-mile Yukon Quest qualifier in the lower 48 and one of only three such events for the Iditarod in the contiguous continental U.S. The Iditarod and the Yukon Quest are considered the longest and the toughest sled dog races in the world.
"Mushers will tell you this is a very, very atypical race," Idaho Sled Dog Challenge co-founder and trail coordinator Dave 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 2024 Idaho Sled Dog Challenge begins Jan. 20 with the Meet a Musher event at the Ponderosa Center in McCall, followed by the 52-mile Warm Lake Stage Race that starts and finishes at North Shore Lodge & Resort Jan. 24-25. The Ceremonial Start, presented by Brundage Mountain Resort at the McCall Activity Barn, is slated for Jan. 28, and the 300-mile and 100-mile races start Jan. 29 at the Lake Cascade State Park boat ramp.
Organizers expect the 100-mile race to end Jan. 30 at the Wye Trailhead & Campground checkpoint off U.S. Route 95 about 6 miles west of New Meadows. Mushers and their teams are expected to cross the 300-mile race finish line at the Lake Cascade State Park boat ramp late in the evening Jan. 31 and throughout the day Feb. 1.
The Idaho Sled Dog Challenge is part of the Rocky Mountain Triple Crown, which includes the Eagle Cap Extreme Jan. 17-20 near Joseph, Ore., and the Race to the Sky Feb. 9-13 near Helena, Mont.
IDITAROD TRIP RAFFLE
Idaho Sled Dog Challenge organizers are raffling off two VIP packages for two to the 2024 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Only 500 tickets are available and cost $100 each, yielding odds of only 1-to-250.
The five-day guided packages are worth $20,000 each. Two winning ticket holders and their choices of one guest each will experience what Wortley -- an Iditarod Air Force Pilot -- bills as the adventure of a lifetime Feb. 29-March 5, 2024. He said they will fly out on the Iditarod Trail, visit checkpoints, see the canine athletes in their element, take in Alaska's beauty and culture, and experience the vast untamed wilderness of the last frontier.
Visit https://go.eventgroovefundraising.com/iditarodtourpackage/Campaign/Details to purchase a raffle ticket.
The winning tickets will be drawn Feb. 1, 2024, at 2 p.m. MST. All proceeds benefit the Idaho Sled Dog Challenge, a 501(C)(3) nonprofit (Idaho Charitable Gaming License 23-R-5411-R).
CONNECTING WITH IDAHO CLASSROOMS
The workshop will immerse educators in the world of sled dog racing, providing an overview of Iditarod EDU's history and mission and its Teacher on the Trail(tm) program's development, purpose, and application process.
Attendees will receive free resources and suggested lessons that align with their curriculum to engage learners, including connections between the Iditarod and Idaho Sled Dog Challenge races so students can match their learning to local events.
The course costs $25 and is limited to 25 participants. Educators interested in attending should visit https://iditarod.com/edu/stem-innovations-based-on-the-idaho-sled-dog-challenge-and-the-iditarod-sled-dog-race for more details.
Register for the course at https://iditarod.ejoinme.org/EDUSTEMwebinar.
The Idaho Sled Dog Challenge is also hosting the Iditarod Summer Conference in 2024 in McCall. Dates for the two- to three-day gathering will be announced later. Attendees will be able to earn continuing education unit credits at the event.
The race is seeking volunteers to help with everything from handling dogs to managing parking, setting up and staffing checkpoints, providing food, operating ham radios, putting up fencing, moving straw bales, and assisting at the start and finish lines.
"The race could not happen without the generous support, time, and enthusiastic spirit of over 200 volunteers," Wortley said. "This race belongs to them."
Visit idahosleddogchallenge.com/volunteer for a list of available positions and to sign up.
TITLE SPONSOR SOUGHT
Race organizers are seeking a headline sponsor. The package costs $15,000 and offers inclusion of the sponsor's name in the official race name, its logo on musher bibs, professional banners at the start and finish lines, a VIP tent at the sponsor's checkpoint of choice, public acknowledgement at all events, and many other perks.
Organizations can also sponsor the seven checkpoints for $3,000 each. Other cash sponsorship packages include trail breaker, sled banner, and lead dog sponsors, which cost $1,500, $500, and $200, respectively.
According to Wortley, the race would not be possible without the generous support of its cash and in-kind sponsors. He said the logistics of running all its events concurrently through the wilderness and over mountain ranges -- with seven checkpoints -- is daunting.
Visit https://idahosleddogchallenge.com/sponsor for more details about sponsorship packages.
The cutoff date for sponsorships is Jan. 10.
More details about the Idaho Sled Dog Challenge, shuttle service to and from the ceremonial, 300-mile, and 100-mile race starts, and the final slate of mushers will be announced in early January. Meanwhile, visit idahosleddogchallenge.com for more information.