When I lived in Northville, never having visited the Upper Peninsula, I had no idea that sled dog races happened so close to home. But, it turns out, there are multiple sled dog races in the U.P.– some are even Iditarod qualifiers. Three major races take place every winter just across the lake.
The first of the races happened this past weekend. The Tahquamenon Country Sled Dog Race took place Saturday, Jan. 5, and included a number of races, such as a 60- and 40-mile 12-dog races and six- and four-dog sportsman races. People come from all over the world for the U.P. sled dog races. For the Tahquamenon race, the local news station, TV6, interviewed a musher from South Africa.
The second race, taking place in the central U.P., is called the U.P. 200, and will take place Friday through Saturday, Feb. 15-18. This weekend of events includes the UP 200 which is a 12-dog, 240-mile race which starts runs from Marquette to Grand Marais and back to Marquette. There’s also the Midnight Run, which is an eight-dog race from Marquette to Munising, and the Jackpine 30, a six-dog, 30-mile race in Gwinn.
The UP 200 is a big Marquette event, the dogs taking off under flood lights through the streets downtown. This year it’ll take place on Friday, Feb. 15. I’ve attended for years, and it’s an exciting community event where you can see the dogs up close as they race through the snow. It’s exciting, and the feeling in the air is electric.
The third sled dog race, which as a newcomer to the scene with only two years under its belt, is the Copper Dog 150. Beginning Friday, March 1, the race begins in downtown Calumet and travels to the Keweenaw Peninsula’s tip, Copper Harbor, returning to Calumet by Sunday, March 3.
Last year, I went to the Copper Dog races, and it was a snowy, freezing weekend that made it almost impossible to travel to Copper Harbor. We stayed in Calumet and watched the dogs come in on Sunday and drank hot chocolate from the Conglomerate Cafe, which is right downtown. This year, the 150-mile race will take place from Friday-Sunday, March 1-3. People who have already signed up to race come from Wisconsin, Wyoming, Minnesota, and Ohio. A couple musher teams are coming from as far as Alaska and Ontario.
There will also be a 40-mile, six-dog race on Friday, March 1, which also starts in downtown Calumet. These races, including the UP 200, are awesome opportunities for people to connect with the local community and also enjoy the U.P. winters. I’m one of those people who don’t love spending hours outside cross-country skiing or snowboarding, but events like these get me comfortably outside in the snow.
Another way to participate in the UP 200 and Copper Dog events is to volunteer. There are a wide range of possibilities, including start- and end-race or trail volunteer positions. Four years ago, I volunteered at the Munising check point for the UP 200, which involved helping the race dogs into their places for the night and getting the mushers anything they needed. It was fascinating to be on the trail with the dogs and interact with the people who lead them.
The UP 200’s motto is, “The excitement of Alaska, without the airfare!” Though that’s kind of corny, it’s absolutely true. I’ve always been interested in the Iditarod, but this is a way to see what the races are really like without trekking to Alaska.
All photos feature the UP200.
Lucy Hough, Associate Editor