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Stage Stop dog sled race to start Friday
The International Pedigree Stage Stop Sled Dog Race draws the top drivers and teams in North America. File photo

Stage Stop dog sled race to start Friday

Jan 24, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

The mushers arrive in Lander on Wednesday, Jan. 30.

"Mush!" will once again echo through the mountains of western Wyoming. The International Pedigree Stage Stop Sled Dog Race is set to begin Friday in Jackson. One leg of the race will be in Lander on Jan. 30, and Lander resident Jerry Bath plans to compete in the race again.

Local residents can meet the competitors and their dogs at the Meet the Mushers event at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 29 at the Gannet Grill in Lander. Organizers will screen a movie about the race, and the band Screen Door Porch will perform.

The local stage of the race begins and ends at the Louis Lake parking lot near South Pass. The 43-mile leg will begin at 9 a.m. and last three or four hours.

Spectators can most easily watch the race at the start and finish, but they are advised to park along the side of the road leading to the parking lot because the teams will need to use it. Attendees are also asked not to bring their pets.

Fans can snowmachine or ski to see other parts of the stage, which runs out and back from Louis Lake to Worthen Meadows along the groomed Continental Divide Snowmobile trail.

Bath said the race buys snowmachine tags for each of the competing sleds to support the state trails program that grooms the trail, even though the tags are not required.

Bath also organized the Lander stage with his wife, Sandy.

Bath said he has not won in four years of racing the IPSSSDR, but he has come close. He finished seventh in 2012, fifth in 2011, seventh in 2010 and fifth in 2009.

He said he hopes to finish in the top 10 again, but that is not his top priority.

"I'm looking forward to finishing the race with happy, healthy dogs, and looking to have fun," Bath said.

He said he competes in other races every winter, and his season runs from Nov. 8 to early March. Until Nov. 8 he is busy operating his wild game processing business.

Bath said his is the winningest sled dog kennel in the lower 48 states in terms of prize money. Still, the competition at this year's IPSSSDR will be tough.

"The competition seems to be stiffer all the time," he said. "The best mushers in the world come here."

Bath will train every day with his dogs until the IPSSSDR begins. He owns 17 race dogs, five yearlings, five 7-month-old puppies. They are all Alaskan huskies, which Bath calls a pedigreed mutt.

The Alaskan husky is not a registered breed, he said, but Bath has his dogs' lineages going back to the 1950s.

During the race, he can use 16 dogs in total but only 12 on any given day. Part of the race strategy is deciding how to rotate the dogs in different teams over the course of a race.

The race covers 350 miles in eight stages. Besides Lander, it will visit Jackson Hole, West Yellowstone, Mont., Alpine, Pinedale, Cora, Big Piney, Marbleton, Kemmerer and Lyman before ending Feb. 2 in Evanston.

The West Yellowstone stage ends in Idaho, and the Evanston leg dips into Utah, yielding a total of four states that the race will visit. Dogs and mushers travel between the finish and start of each stage, similar to the Tour de France.

Cash prizes in the race total $160,000. One sponsor, Pedigree Dog Food, is donating a year's supply of dog food for one dog to Lander Pet Connection. Lander Ambassadors, Fremont County Health and the REACH program will also receive cash donations.

The IPSSSDR is the second largest sled dog race in the country after the Iditarod in Alaska.

This year, 23 mushers hailing from Wyoming, Alaska, Oregon, Minnesota, Montana, Michigan, several Canadian provinces, one Canadian territory and Sweden are competing. Six of the racers are women, and one, Jenny Gregor of Bozeman, Mont., is only 17 years old.

Lander youth William Shade will join 14 other nine- to 13-year-olds in the Junior Stage Stop race in Evanston after the last stage. All of the young racers come from communities the race passes through and agree to perform 10 hours of community service and donate $25 dollars to the Uinta County Youth Coalition.

The IPSSSDR provides dog teams and sleds for the youngsters.

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