The Future Home of Iditarod Dreams: We’re Not in Kansas Anymore…

The Future Home of Iditarod Dreams: We’re Not in Kansas Anymore…

This past weekend I attended a symposium put on by the Willow (Alaska) Dog Mushers Association and lets just say I got schooled! I have called myself a musher for the better part of two decades and after hearing these guys talk I soon realized that everything I have done up to this point was mere child’s play.

In the morning we had short breakout sessions and I learned how to use a GPS in the woods where life just might matter in the case of an emergency. While I was in the Boy Scouts (and earned the Second Class badge, I might add), I must have skipped the map reading and compass orientation session at camp. I soon learned that a compass does not point to the same North as on a map and must be calibrated to do so.

The next session was about outdoor survival. While it was all great information about Cabela’s boots and Smart Wool socks the thing that coming up over and over from the ladies in the groups was how they had such a difficult time when nature called. I had never really thought about that but hey, even at 50 below zero I might think twice about Free Willy.

In the afternoon, Mary Shields, the first woman to ever finish the Iditarod spoke. What inspiration! Ms. Sheilds told stories about the beginning of the Iditarod and how things have changed over the years.

The sessions continued with a segment on how to stretch your kennel dollar–did you know that most mushers spend about a dollar a day per dog on food. Some mushers have a hundred dogs that is 3000 bucks a month!

Later in the afternoon there was great panel discussion on training lead dogs. The panel was a virtual who’s who of some of the greatest mushing names in the sport: Redington, Jonrowe, and Seavey among others.

The evening concluded with an honest to goodness home cooked ham dinner with the local 5th graders acting as servers. It was cute but I bet I got asked if I wanted a refill on water at least a thousand times. We then watched a film on Mary Shields and her run of the Yukon Quest. It was called Season of the Sled Dog.

I have been to a lot of conferences, seminars and talks but I will have to say this is one of the best ones I have ever been to. Who would have thought in a town of just a couple thousand people they could put on such an event. I guess thats why I love this place!

I welcome your comments and suggestions. Please comment below.

Robert Forto | Team Ineka | Alaska Dog Works | Mushing Radio |


Robert Forto is the host of The Dog Works Radio Show and is the training director of Alaska Dog Works. Robert Forto can be reached through his website at