Tandem sledding on Big Trout Lake
FALL 2011


Welcome friends of SUOMI HILLS KENNEL. I hope this edition of Suomi Hills Trail Notes finds all of you happy and healthy.

Winter is here, and we are working hard to prepare for another winter of providing sled dog rides to the public. The one-hour tours are only going to be made available on a very limited basis this winter. This change allows us more time for doing group rides, since this is the direction that our business has been going. We are specializing in winter festivals, family parties, and corporate activities. One of the best things about this job is seeing all of the excited happy faces from the people that get rides from us. Although there is little snow on the ground at this time, I am still training dogs with the four-wheeler.

The dogs and I once again spent the summer of 2011 working for Gold Rush Sled Dog Tours in Juneau, Alaska. Gold Rush caters to the cruise ships that dock in Juneau. On a busy day 10,000 people from around the world might visit Juneau via the cruise ships, and they are all looking for a fun and educational experience. My dogs and I, along with three other mushers and another 90 dogs, gave almost 7,000 people the experience they were looking for. The Gold Rush tour consists of several interpretive tents and a mile and a half ride on a specially made dog cart. In the past I have talked about the presentation in the history tent. In this issue I will talk about the race tent.

Happy Trails to You, Joel

The Race Tent

Setting up a race tent One of the most common questions I receive when giving tours is: have you ever run the Iditarod? I have not, but I do speak about the Iditarod quite a bit. The Race Tent is set up somewhat like an Iditarod checkpoint. Some of the props there include a sled, musher clothing, drop bags, booties, cooker, snowshoes, axe, and more. These are all items that would be used while running the Iditarod. Today sleds are usually made from aluminum alloys and plastic and weigh about 35 pounds.

The Iditarod is the biggest, most popular sled dog race in the world. There are many sled dog races all around the world, but the Iditarod is the one that most people hear about and ask about, and that is why we tend to focus mostly on it. Since the first Iditarod in 1973, things have change quite a bit.

Between 60 and 100 teams start the race the first weekend in March of each year. The first day is a ceremonial start in downtown Anchorage and only covers about a dozen miles. It doesn’t count as part of the race but is all for the TV cameras and spectators. The next day the real race starts on Willow Lake about 60 miles north of Anchorage. From that point on, the race is on 24/7 and the first team to arrive in Nome about 1,000 miles away is the winner of the $60,000 first prize. No outside assistance is allowed from Willow Lake to the finish. That means when you pull into a checkpoint after 6, 8, 10 or more hours on the trail, there is no such thing as having mom waiting with a hot meal or having your boyfriend or girlfriend help you feed the dogs or change the dogs’ booties. You are all on your own. The only exceptions to this rule are mushers are allowed to assist one another, but remember the mushers are usually competing with one another. Plus the veterinarians are allowed to advise the mushers.

Setting up a race tent Before the race starts the musher fills checkpoint bags with a lot of dog food, human food, dog booties and whatever else they think they will need to get them to the finish. These bags then are flown out to the checkpoints along the trail and are waiting for the musher when they get there. There are about 20 checkpoints spaced on average about every 50 miles along the trail. Some of the checkpoints are villages, and some are just places along the trail where the race committee sets up a tent and brings in supplies and a crew of volunteers. All of the checkpoints have a place where the musher can go in and warm up. It may be a community center, a school, or just a tent in the wilderness. All of the checkpoints also have a team of veterinarians available to assist the musher if they need them.

Although the race is on 24/7, the mushers do need to rest their dogs. When, where, and for how long they rest their dogs is mostly up to the individual mushers. If you rest longer your dogs may run a little faster, but you may let your competitors get too far ahead of you. If you run long and rest short, you may run your dogs down and they may not be able to continue to compete in the race. This is all part of the strategy of the race. There are three mandatory rest stops required during the race. The first is that all mushers must spend 24 hours at one of the checkpoints. Which checkpoint you take your 24-hour rest at is up to the musher. The second is that all mushers must rest their dogs 8 hours at one of the checkpoints on the Yukon River. The third is that all mushers must spend 8 hours at the last checkpoint before the finish line, which is White Mountain. All mushers rest more than the required rest; if you didn’t you most certainly would not get your team to the finish line. The whole object of the race is to take good care of your team.

In this race the dogs are the athletes, and the musher is the coach, dietician, trainer and manager. It’s been said that the best dog team always wins the race. I say the best dog team wins the race only if the musher does his job properly. The Iditarod is a great event, and I really enjoy telling worldwide visitors all about it in the Race Tent!!


Tutshi was born May 1, 2007, at Tutshi Lake which is about 40 miles north of Skagway, Alaska. We were on our way into Skagway for our summer job on the Denver Glacier. Tutshi’s mother was Raven and father was Wyatt. Wyatt previously belonged to John Baker and is one of the dogs that produced his 2011 Iditarod championship team.

Tutshi Lake is a spot that I like to stop at if I have extra time when heading into Skagway. Surrounded by the mountains of very northern British Columbia and very near to the Yukon Territory, it is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Needless to say it has a special place in my heart.

Dropping dogs at Tutshi Lake, Alaska Shortly after Raven had delivered Tutshi we continued our trip. Tutshi’s first day included a 40-mile truck ride down to Skagway and then a 20-mile helicopter ride up to the glacier. He spent the summer growing up on the glacier and entertaining many tourist and crew. Tutshi was an only puppy and I think that may explain his size. He is huge. A lot of my mushing friends tell me I should get him a saddle.

Tutshi Lake, Alaska From his first run in harness, Tutshi has always been a solid hard worker. This past spring I decided it was time for him to become a lead dog. He is not a natural leader. He feels more comfortable back in the team, but I have been able to convince him that he can lead. He led tours all summer in Juneau, but I’m hoping in the future he will become even more confident at leading.

Tutshi also has contributed to our kennel by producing two litters of puppies. Tutshi and Willow produced Mojo, Latte, Chino, Chai, Java, and Mocha. Tutshi and Star produced Champ, Cherokee, Taylor, Beaver, Otter, Piper and Cub.

I believe Tutshi and these puppies will be the future of Suomi Hills Kennel.

Read my Journal "To Alaska Again - Spring 2010"

Past Newsletters: Fall 2008 | Spring 2009 | Fall 2009 | Spring 2010 | Fall 2010 | Spring 2011