FAIRBANKS — A delegation of sled-dog race organizers from Norway and Sweden is in Alaska this week, hoping to get some pointers from the state where mushing is the official sport.
The 16-person group spent Monday in Fairbanks, meeting with officials from the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race. They’ll spend Wednesday and Thursday in Anchorage with the organizers of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
The trip is part of an effort to collect knowledge from the two longest distance mushing competitions in the world and to spur more collaboration between mushers in the two regions.
“We’ve been wanting to do this for years — to meet people and learn about the races and, of course, learn what we can do better,” said Svanhild Pedersen, manager of Norway’s 600-mile Finnmarkslopet sled-dog race.
Pedersen was joined by representatives from three other Scandanavian long-distance mushing events who are working to boost the international profile of their sport. Mushing is popular in Norway, she said, with nightly national broadcasts during the high-profile Finnmarkslopet.
But a significant list of issues have proved challenging, from raising money to maintaining dog safety as the pace quickens.
During a meeting Monday at the Alpine Lodge, Marti Steury, the Alaska executive director for the Yukon Quest, spoke of the difficulties of holding the Fairbanks-to-Whitehorse race that spans two countries. She faced questions about the role of veterinarians and race officials and how the race keeps roughly 1,000 volunteers engaged.
Steury said Quest officials are happy to cooperate. In its infancy, the Quest wouldn’t have survived without similar question-and-answer sessions with Iditarod officials.
“They’re struggling with the same issues,” said Iditarod race director Mark Nordman. “They’re learning from us, we’re learning from them.”
The Scandanavian race officials are also using their trip to Alaska to do some recruiting. Pedersen isn’t shy about her plans to entice more Alaska mushers to races in Europe.
The participation of former Quest champion Hugh Neff in the most recent Finnmarkslopet made a media splash, she said. A visit to former Iditarod and Quest champ Jeff King on Sunday ended with an invitation to race in Norway, and Pedersen said she hopes more European mushers compete in Alaska’s races in the future.
“The most important thing for us is to become more international,” Pedersen said.
Contact staff writer Jeff Richardson at 459-7518. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMbusiness.