Bino Fowler of Sunriver won the 2011 100-mile course of the Eagle Cap Extreme Sled Dog Race and the Best Kept Team Award in his fift appearance at the race. KATY NESBITT / The Observer
Oregon’s only qualifying sled dog race for Iditarod, Yukon Quest unfolds Jan. 26All paws are on deck preparing Wallowa County’s premier winter event — the Eagle Cap Extreme Sled Dog Race, which starts Jan. 26 at Ferguson Ridge Ski Area.
The Eagle Cap Extreme 200 mile race is Oregon’s only qualifier for the Iditarod and Yukon Quest, board member Troy Navé said. This year, in addition to the 100- and 200-mile races there will be a short race that will also start and finish at Ferguson Ridge.
Executive Director Randy Greenshields said of the new race, “It is 36 miles, Fergi to Salt Creek, around Hass-Owl Loop and back to Fergi. We haven't set a definite start time yet, but it will be after the distance mushers leave with a short time gap of 20 to 30 minutes.”
This is a pot race, Greenshields said, with a $36 entry fee. The payout is the total entry fees paid to the top three finishers.
“Our thought is this would be a good training race for young or inexperienced teams or mushers not sure if they are ready for an extreme 100 or more miles,” Greenshields said. “We added this race to broaden the appeal of the ECX across more mushing experience levels and/or smaller kennels — this is a six-dog race.”
“Some of the attraction to the 100 and 200 mile races revolve around the route's degree of difficulty; even experienced mushers are regularly impressed by the terrain. The 36-mile route avoids much of the challenging terrain of the longer distances. In fact the route is mostly flat; the most difficult section will be ascending — then descending — the hill at Fergi for the start/finish. Less experienced mushers will find this shorter race less daunting,” Greenshields said.
“The 36 mile race is not designed exclusively for newer mushers; we expect the shorter race to enhance the draw of experienced mushers with larger kennels to the ECX as well. Veteran mushers often have trusted handlers who are capable of running dog teams. While veterans mush their ‘A-team’ on the 100 or 200 mile race, their handlers can run some of the younger or second-tier dogs on the 36-miler,” Greenshields said.
Because the race will begin after the longer races, he said Greenshields doesn’t expect finishers until well into Thursday evening.
The fun starts Jan. 25 when the vet checks are conducted in downtown Joseph and Enterprise. Schools kids and the general public come out to meet the dogs and the mushers while veterinarians check the dogs’ health.
That evening a potluck with the mushers and organizers is held at the Joseph Community Center and education and merchandise booths offer materials for the sled dog fans.
The races start at 1 p.m. at Ferguson Ridge and shuttle service is provided from a parking lot on Tucker Down Road.
This year the race is later in January than usual, Navé said, to give organizers and the community a little more time after the holidays to organize and to work better with the schedules of other mid-distance races around the U.S.
“The race has long been considered one of the best run of its size and most challenging,” Navé said, and it is attracting some repeat mushers.
Two mushers have signed up to date, both for the 100-mile race. Rick Katucki, from Eagle, Idaho, is an ECX regular and crowd favorite. This is his ninth season mushing, Navé said.
Dee Ogden from Idaho City, Idaho, is also returning this year. He’s been mushing for 16 years and was runner-up the past two Eagle Cap Extreme 100-mile races, Navé said.
From a fan perspective it’s always a great event, Navé said. Kids from the Wallowa County schools as well as from Cove come to watch the race start. Hot drinks, snacks and warming barrels are available to make spectators comfortable while waiting for the barking burst of energy by each of the race’s teams.
“Our race’s community outreach is unique,” Navé said.