Lincoln will take center stage in the coming weeks, as one of the most challenging sled dog races in the nation both starts and finishes there.
The 33rd annual Race to the Sky, now dubbed the Young Living Race to the Sky as a result of its new sponsor, kicks off Feb. 10 in Lincoln. That afternoon, racers in the 300-mile, 100-mile and 100-mile junior events take off into the wilds, heading towards Seeley Lake before making the loop to the finish back in Lincoln.
“I think we’re going to have a very competitive race,” said Pam Beckstrom with the organizing committee. “All along the trail the conditions are very good with a great base.”
Unlike in past years, when several events took place in Helena, race directors decided to move everything to Lincoln. Beckstrom emphasized that the race still values Helena’s contribution and volunteers that help with the race, but snow conditions for a ceremonial run in Rimini and having racers bring their teams to Lincoln the next day presented challenges.
On Friday, Feb. 9, 300-mile racers have their vet check from 1-3 p.m. at Hi-Country Snack Foods, 1 Lincoln Gulch Road, followed by a driver’s meeting and a pre-race dinner at the Lincoln Community Center from 6-8 p.m.
“The dinner is free, so we want everyone from the surrounding areas to come up and meet the mushers,” Beckstrom said. “Given the fire season that Lincoln and Seeley had, we’re happy to give them something this winter and they’ve been very receptive.”
This year’s 300-mile race features 2017 champion Laurie Warren and 1994 and 2016 winner Jessie Royer. Also racing are father and son Brett and Spencer Bruggeman of Great Falls and Clayton Perry of Power. Rounding out the race are Josi Thyr of Idaho, Gary Young of Utah, Skyler Olsen of Utah, Damon Ramaker of Minnesota and Dylan Harris of Utah.
The 100-mile junior race includes Charmayne Morrison from Polson and Jacob Young of Utah, both 17 years old.
The 100-mile adult race features Roy Etnire of Seeley Lake, Steve Riggs of Olney, Matt Hamel of Seattle, Trevor Warren of Idaho, Steve Madsen of Washington and Rex Mumford of Utah.
Races start at 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 10, at Hi-Country Snack Foods, and Beckstrom encourages visitors to attend.
“One thing we want is a huge crowd, so we want to allow as much access for everyone as we can,” she said. “The start is always lots of fun and kind of a circus atmosphere.”
Checkpoints are also open to the public. Racers carry GPS units that allow up-to-the minute tracking. More information is available at http://racetothesky.org/.
Beckstrom recommends giving mushers some space as they get ready, and the checkpoints are where dogs rest. She also advises visitors to leave their dogs at home or in the car, as other dogs can distract the race dogs.