Back in the day it was about necessity and ease, about coping with impossibly deep snow and impossibly great distances. It was about getting from point A to point B. It was about getting out to ice flows to hunt walrus or seal and it was about safe guarding a town from an outbreak of diphtheria.
But in the age of snowmobiles, dog sledding is about something else.
“It’s for the love of the dogs, that’s why they do it,” says Chairwoman Susanna Colloredo-Mansfeld.
The New England Sled Dogs races had been originally scheduled for this coming weekend, Jan. 14-15, at . But last week, since there's no snow on the ground, organizers announced that the races have been moved back to Feb. 4-5.
Introduced to the sport a quarter century ago by the daughter of , Colloredo-Mansfeld speaks from personal knowledge. She has experienced windburn behind teams racing across snowfields in Jackson Hole, Wy. and Quebec, Canada.
Like others who have held tight to an anchored sled as a team is harnessed, Colloredo-Mansfeld knows of the dogs’ love of the sport. Even so, she marvels at it. The stories never get old and new ones come with every race.
Taking time out from a event organizer’s meeting last month, Colloredo-Mansfeld and Robert Henrici relayed a story about a veterinarian who had volunteered to help out on the Yukon Quest race, a race generally described as the toughest dog sled race of all.
“People ought to know that there are vets. There are checkpoints and there are vets. It’s very carefully overseen,” Colloredo-Mansfeld said, stressing the care given to the sled dogs.
Telling the vet’s story she continued, “He was from Wyoming (and was used to the cold)."
He was standing there in Sorrel boots, warm gloves, and a warm jacket at night.
"I’m standing on a river bank and it’s fifty or sixty below zero," he told Colloredo-Mansfeld. "I’d never been so cold in my whole life."
He was dropped off all alone at the checkpoint.
“And he waited there in the dark and finally he saw a light coming," Colloredo-Mansfeld continued.
“He said, ‘Down the river came a headlamp’”, added Henrici.
And a native man went by the vet.
"And he had a truck driver’s hat on, his parka open, his shirt open, no mittens,” said Colloredo-Mansfeld.
“And a cigarette in his mouth,” tossed in Henrici.
The passing man told the vet: "Gad it’s cold out here."
“‘So the vet says why the hell do these people do this?’ And his next sentence is, ‘They do it for the love of the dogs. And the dogs do it for the love of their handlers.’ It’s a real partnership.”
Together Colloredo-Mansfeld and Henrici went on to tell of how before each race each musher goes to each dog in their team and makes eye to eye contact to connect on an emotional, personal basis.
“It’s the love between them that drives those dogs,” said Henrici.