Sled dog sports are often referred to as “mushing”. There are several different types of events around the world largely dependent on tradition and climate. The three main styles are known as:
- Nordic; and
The Nordic style
Includes two variations: Skijoring and Pulka. In Skijoring, the driver skies behind the dog(s) and is attached to the harnessed dog(s) by a tugline. The skier wears a belt around the waist or hips to which the tugline is attached thus freeing the skier’s arms to poll. The Pulka variation is also performed with a skier; however, between the skier and the dog(s) is a pulk — a traditional Scandinavian toboggan — that can be used to carry supplies. (See the Skijoring section for more information on this sport which is rapidly gaining popularity in North America.)
The Dryland style
Usually practiced with no snow and with or without a mechanical device. Mechanical devices can include a scooter whereby the driver pushes and peddles with the dog attached in the front of the scooter; a bicycle (known as bikejoring) where the driver peddles the bike and the dog is attached to the bike with a tugline; or a three or four-wheeled cart which the musher rides and the dog(s) are attached with a harness in the same manner as a to a sled. Canicross is the dryland style that is perfomed with no mechanical device. In this variation, the musher literally runs behind the dog(s) and is attached to the dog(s) with the same type of belt used for Skijoring.
The Nome style
Performed with a dog sled in which the driver pushes the sled, runs along side of the sled, or rides on the sled’s runners. This is the most traditional form of dog powered sports, especially in North America. The Nome style includes two main categories: Sprint and Distance. Sprint refers to short distance competitions held in 4-dog, 6-dog, 8-10 dog, and unlimited classes. The more dogs involved in the team, the greater the distance required on the trail. The 4-dog team typically competes on a 6.5 km trail and the unlimited class is usually run on trails between 20 and 50 kms in length.
The Distance category
Includes mid-distance and long-distance. The International Federation of Sleddog Sports, Inc. (IFSS) mid-distance category consists of 6-dog teams competing on trails of 80 to 160 kms and 8-12 dog teams usually competing on trails that are a distance of 100 to 320 kms. The IFSS long-distance trails are over 220 kms with many 1,600 kms or more.
Stage racing is a raltively new addition to the distance race and involves mushers who race for 5 to 15 or more days on trails that average 40 to 80 miles each day.
In a survey conducted in 1996-1997, it was determined that there were almost 21,000 mushers/drivers/skiers participating in over 1,000 dog-powered competitive events throughout the world during the racing season.
Some of the best known competitions include:
- The Iditarod which is by far the best known long distance race.
- In the Nome sprint sector, the best known is the North American Championships held in Fairbanks, Alaska.
- In Europe, the Finnmarksløpet is the most highly prized and longest race.
- The most popular stage races include the Pirena which is an eight-day race in the Pyrenees of Spain and the Wyoming Stage Stop Race runs a 10-day trail through the towns of the Rocky Mountains of Wyoming.
- International Federation of Sled Dog Sports
- International Sled Dog Racing Association
- World Sled Dog Association
- Inuit Sled Dog International
- Sled Dog Central — Excellent resource site.
- Official Iditarod Web Site