The Priest Lake Sled Dog Races are this weekend, and for some that’s a family affair.
Richard Hancock will be racing – and so will his 70-year-old father.
Hancock, who is 52 and lives in Spokane, started racing when he was 6. He raced until he was 18, then took a break for about 20 years. He got back into racing about 9 years ago.
When one of his dad’s dogs had puppies, “I took two of them as pets and they insisted on running,” Hancock said. “You don’t have to force these dogs to run.”
This weekend he’ll be racing a three-dog sprint team, and his dad will race a six-dog sprint team.
Mushers will race in a variety of classes, including the 20-mile mid-distance and sprints ranging from 4.7 miles to 9 miles. There are two youth classes: PeeWee for 4- to 8-year-olds and Teddy Bear for 7- to 14-year-olds.
And there will also be skijoring – that’s when a person on cross-country skis is hitched to one or two dogs. Hancock said they can be just as fast as sleds.
He’s tried it. “I decided that I’m much better at staying on my feet if I’m on a sled.”
Another way for families to enjoy the races: as spectators.
The start/finish line is at the north end of the Forest Service airstrip at Ravin Ranch Road and Highway 57. Teams run down the airstrip to Hanna Flats Road, then turn west. Starts are staggered, with a different team leaving every two minutes.
Spectators can line the airstrip, or can snowshoe out to watch along the trails through the trees.
The races are sponsored by the Inland Empire Sled Dog Association. Participants can earn points toward the Pacific Northwest Championships. There will also be cash prizes.
Hancock had some advice for spectators:
• Leave pets at home.
• Dress for cold weather.
• Enjoy the dogs, but be sure to ask the owner before you try to pet one.
“Other than that, just come enjoy yourself.”
When: Saturday and Sunday, the first race will start about 9:30 a.m., the last at 1 or 2 p.m. The youngest mushers only race Saturday. On Sunday, the fastest teams from Saturday start first.
Where: The races start and finish at the north end of the air strip opposite the Priest Lake Ranger Station. To get there, take Highway 57 north from Priest River, turn left on Ravin Ranch Road, then follow the signs.
Cost for spectators: $4 for parking on Saturday. Food will be available for purchase.