Michigan Musher Shares His Obsession With Wyoming Sled-Dog Racing

Feb 7, 2014

Sixteen sled dog teams are racing more than 300 miles this week across western Wyoming and neighboring states. This is the nineteenth year for the International Pedigree Stage Stop Sled Dog Race. This weekend is the end of the 8-day race that started in Jackson and finished in Evanston. Wyoming Public Radio's Rebecca Huntington caught up with one of the racers, Bruce Magnusson.

CROWD: Go dogs, go!

HUNTINGTON: Started by Teton County resident Frank Teasley, this Stage Stop Sled Dog Race, attracts experienced mushers, or sled dog professionals, from across the U.S. and Canada. Bruce Magnusson, of Michigan, says when he entered this Wyoming race for the first time in 2006, he really didn't think he was ready. But his mentors disagreed.

MAGNUSSON: I told them, I wasn't ready, and they said, 'You'll never be ready be ready.' And that pushed my buttons and said, 'Ok, I'm coming.'

HUNTINGTON: That was nine years ago, and Magnusson hasn't missed a race since. That first year, he says his goal was simply to finish. Now he's racing to win. But even if he doesn't place, he says this race gives him a chance to test his dog team against the best in the country.

MAGNUSSON: When we stay at home we win most races, we stay at home. When we come out here, and we race against the best in the world, the best we've done is fourth here.

HUNTINGTON: Magnusson is a competitive athlete, who grew up playing baseball, racing motocross and golfing. He says, for him, no other sport compares to the thrill of sled-dog racing.

MAGNUSSON: It's so surreal out there when it's quiet and you watch these amazing animals do what they can do. And what they'll do for you and what they'll let you do with them, it just sucks you in, and then they're all done and says, 'That's all you wanted from me.' A little pet and their like wagging their tails and their just awesome, ready to do it again tomorrow. 

HUNTINGTON: This year's route is taking Magnusson and other teams through Wyoming, Idaho, Montana and Utah, making it the first sled dog race to span four states. Last year, teams faced a ground blizzard on the Kemmerer Stage, with 60 mile-per-hour winds and waist-deep snow drifts.

MAGNUSSON: We couldn't even see teams in front of us and the snow at places, sections was three and four feet deep. Instead of racing, we all like, 'Let's just get to the finish.' But that's part of Wyoming racing. I mean, we don't come here for sunny days every day.

HUNTINGTON: But what Magnusson does come for is the warm reception he gets in communities along the way. Similar to the Tour de France, racers stop in different towns each night. The format gives the dogs a rest, and mushers like Magnusson a chance to share their passion for the sport with local communities.

MAGNUSSON: For Magnusson, the family obsession with sled dogs started with his dad. He says his dad had been training black labs for competitive field trials around the country. But then his father met a retired professional sled dog racer, who lured him into the sport.

MAGNUSSON: He was 300 miles north of us and we hear one day, I brought home two dogs. Now I got five dogs. Now I got 10 dogs. And we said we got to go help this crazy old man.

HUNTINGTON: Eventually, Magnusson and his wife, Monica, who also races sled dogs, took over the kennel. And they've grown the operation to include 65 dogs. So what does his dad think about his legacy?

MAGNUSSON: He thinks we're nuts.

HUNTINGTON: Magnusson says his dad might be right but that's not slowing him down. For Wyoming Public Radio, I'm Rebecca Huntington in Jackson.

Fans can follow the race onlineat wyomingstagestop.org. Magnusson's wife also writes a blog about sled dog racing. You can find it at www.magnussonracing.com/blog/