Antrim husky competing in Alaska Iditarod
Ivy, a 6-year-old Siberian Husky born and raised in Antrim, will run in this weekend’s Iditarod sled dog race in Alaska — the longest one in the world.
Ivy was bred, raised and trained in Antrim by Loranne Carey Block at Snow Star Farm, and has been living and training in Alaska for the past three winters with Mike and Sue Ellis, formerly of Rumney. This is Ivy’s first time running the race.
Loranne and her husband, Richard Block, have been training huskies for sled dog races for years, and have about two dozen dogs at Snow Star Farm, which Loranne says is enough for three teams.
Loranne said the racing community in New Hampshire is very small, and that’s how she and the Ellises were acquainted. She and her family got into dogsled racing thanks in large part to Loranne’s son, Brendan. He once overheard two women from Yukon, Canada, talking about the sport, and asked his mother if they could try it. It has been a hobby for the family ever since. They have owned and raised sled dogs for about 13 years now, Loranne said.
Mike, Sue and the dogs go by Team Tsuga. They started racing in 2000 in Stark, N.H., in the 30-mile Phillips Brooks 30, where the team took fifth place out of seven teams. Ivy didn’t join the team until 2010, though she is still owned by Loranne. She will be coming back to N.H. after the Alaskan racing season is over, hopefully bred, Loranne said.
Alaska’s Iditarod runs 1,131 miles from Anchorage to Nome. It’s the first time Lorrane has had a dog run in the famed race, where temperatures can sometimes drop to 30 or 40 degrees below zero.
“It’s very, very cool to see her run,” Lorrane said in an interview Tuesday. “It’s like watching your kid grow up and make the major leagues. There’s no higher place you can go for dogs.”
Lorrane said that generally the Yukon Quest dogsled race, that runs from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Whitehorse, Yukon, in Canada is tougher because of the terrain and temperatures. The Yukon Quest is in February and is 1,000 miles long. Mike has run the Yukon Quest five times.
Lorrane said at Snow Star Farm, race training starts at the end of September or beginning of October when the temperatures start to drop. For her, training usually consists of a team of dogs pulling some type of heavy rig.
Mike has his dogs train by pulling an ATV, sometimes put in gear to create more resistance. Lorrane said she doesn’t personally train that way, but it doesn’t necessarily go against the nature of these dogs.
“Those dogs were born to run,” she said. “They’re driven. They want to do that.”
Teams running in the Iditarod consist of a musher — which is the person on the back of the sled steering and yelling, “mush” — and 16 dogs. In total, the sled weighs 200 to 400 pounds, Lorrane said.
Like Ivy, this will be Mike’s first time competing in the Iditarod, too . Teams generally finish the race in nine to 15 days, sometimes more depending on the conditions.
Mike’s team is unique in that he only races purebred Huskies, and part of the team’s race goal is to post records for strictly purebred teams.
Loranne does most of the training at Snow Star Farm, while Richard and Brendan occasionally compete in races in New England. Loranne said the farthest the family travels for a race is Fort Kent, Maine . She said that in training the dogs do all the work, while in races the musher gets off the sled and runs up hills with the dogs.
Ivy’s siblings are all sled dogs on the Block’s teams at Snow Star Farm. Her mother, Kali, still leads one of the teams at 11 years old.
Block said that Ivy’s father, Jack, was a lifetime, or good companion, dog, who raced a lot in his prime. The Block family didn’t buy him until he was 8 years old.
“He had a sweet personality, and was really the perfect dog,” Lorrane said.
Looking ahead to the future at Snow Star Farm, Lorrane said she has always thought about giving dogsled tours during the fall foliage season. She and Richard now own several carts with wheels that can be hooked up to a team of dogs, and she said the abandoned train tracks running from Deering to Bennington would make for a perfect route.
The Blocks have also given some thought to public dogsled lessons, but Loranne said that would be a ways down the road.
“This has been a very serious hobby up until this point,” Block said. “We’ve never done a racing business commercially. Maybe when Richard retires we’ll think about giving lessons.”