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Iditarod Mushers Get Creative Despite Lack of Snow

By Blake Essig, Aviation and Transportation, Public Affairs Multimedia Reporter, bessig@ktuu.com
Published On: Nov 03 2013 07:40:00 PM AKST

No snow has dog mushers worried.

Iditarod 42 is more than 117 days away, and for the men, women and dogs preparing for next year's race, a lack of snow and unseasonably warm weather could create challenges.

Whether mother nature cooperates or not, mushers like four-time Iditarod champion Martin Buser and his team at Happy Trails Kennel in Big Lake are doing whatever it takes to keep the dogs in shape.

"As the temperatures decrease, typically the distances increase," Buser said. "Right now we're running six miles a day and that gradually increases as the temperatures and the conditions allow us."

Currently Buser and his team are using a 4-wheeler as a substitute for a sled, a common practice for mushers training their dogs during the warmer months.

"It used to be old cars or chassis, all kinds of contraptions," Buser said.  "Now most everybody uses 4-wheelers to get their dogs in base conditioning."

For Buser, a 4-wheeler isn't the only thing his team uses to get his 75 dogs ready to run year-round, relying on the world’s largest treadmill as a training tool.

"I can run 10 or 12 dogs on that treadmill all together at once," Buser said.  "That's sort of a secret weapon that nobody else has."

Buser says the treadmill used to belong to Maggie the elephant at the Alaska Zoo, but is now being used as training and research tool at Happy Trails Kennel.

"A dog musher hardly ever sees his dogs from the side because we spend all the time behind them, but being able to see them from the profile, the side-view gives me a really good idea of how they're moving," Buser said.

Despite the training tools, Buser says there's no substitute for what he calls "time on trail."

"You've got to be out there on the trail," Buser said.  "You've got to deal with the uneasiness of the terrain; you've got to deal with the conditions; you've got to cover ground in the real environment."

Buser said if he doesn't have reliable snow by Thanksgiving he will be forced to travel, taking anywhere from 20 to 50 dogs somewhere in the state that has snow.