Idaho Sled Dog Challenge Returns Jan. 21-Feb. 3

CASCADE, Idaho (Jan. 9, 2023) -- The Idaho Sled Dog Challenge is returning to the West Central Mountains of Idaho this month during the 2023 McCall Winter Carnival.

Organizers celebrating Iditarod qualifier's fifth anniversary

CASCADE, Idaho (Jan. 9, 2023) -- The Idaho Sled Dog Challenge is returning to the West Central Mountains of Idaho this month during the 2023 McCall Winter Carnival.

Celebrating its fifth year, the Idaho Sled Dog Challenge features world-class mushers. It is the only 300-mile Yukon Quest qualifier in the lower 48 and one of only three such events for the Iditarod in the contiguous continental U.S. The Iditarod and the Yukon Quest are considered the longest and the toughest sled dog races in the world.

The Idaho Sled Dog Challenge is part of the Rocky Mountain Triple Crown, which includes the Eagle Cap Extreme Jan. 18-21 near Joseph, Ore., and the Race to the Sky Feb. 10-14 near Helena, Mont.

According to Idaho Sled Dog Challenge co-founder and trail coordinator Dave Looney, the Idaho race is considered one of the most grueling mushing competitions in the world due to its topography.

Mushers will tell you this is a very, very atypical race, Looney says. Our elevation change is 36,000 feet, which is greater than the Iditarod. They call it a 500-mile race packed into 300 miles. So the dog care and the pacing and the attention they have to pay to the terrain is really important, because there's a lot of up and down. One musher said the Idaho Sled Dog Challenge is like climbing Mt. Everest -- twice.

New Events

In addition to the 300-mile Iditarod and Yukon Quest qualifier and the 100-mile race, this year's Idaho Sled Dog Challenge offers the new, 52-mile Warm Lake stage race for mushers new to the sport or running new sled dog teams. Like last year, organizers are not staging a junior race this year.

Race organizers are bringing back the ceremonial start, which will take place at the McCall Activity Barn Jan. 29 -- the day before the 300-mile and 100-mile races start. Valley County Pathways is grooming several miles of trail for the ceremonial start, and race organizers are auctioning off sled dog rides with mushers competing in the races. Organizers encourage spectators to make a day of it and stop by and watch the vet checks at the Ridley's parking lot in McCall and then head over to the ceremonial start or vice versa.

Organizers are also auctioning off what's billed as the adventure of a lifetime -- a private 2023 Iditarod tour package for two. The bidding starts at $4,500 and ends Feb. 1 at midnight. The winning bidder and one guest will experience the finish of the 2023 Iditarod, dubbed the Last Great Race on Earth. They'll fly out on the race trail, visit checkpoints, take in the vast beauty, and experience Alaskan culture, according to Idaho Sled Dog Challenge founder and organizer Jerry Wortley, who serves as an Iditarod Air Force pilot.

Visit and click on the auction tab for more details about the dog sled rides and Iditarod trip auctions and to bid on them.

The Idaho Sled Dog Challenge is also working with the Iditarod Education Department to bring the race into Gem State classrooms. They're hosting the training course Spirit Unleashed 101 via Zoom this week to immerse participating educators statewide in the world of sled dog racing and help their students match learning to local and global events. Visit to register for the course, which costs $25 and is slated for Jan. 12, at 6 p.m. MST.

World-Class Mushers

Currently eight mushers are registered for the 300-mile race, 11 are signed up for the 100-mile race, and eight are competing in the Warm Lake stage race.

The event operates under a special-use permit from the U.S. Forest Service, which allows for 25 mushers and dog teams between the 300-mile and 100-mile races. The permit allows for an additional 15 mushers to compete in the Warm Lake stage race.

Wortley says this year's roster boasts Iditarod and Yukon Quest veterans among its ranks, including 2018 and 2020 ISDC 300-mile-race champion Jessie Royer. Born in Idaho and raised on a Montana cattle ranch, Royer is considered one of the mushing world's top contenders and she placed third in the Iditarod in 2019 and 2020 and 13th in 2021. She has placed in the Iditarod's top 10 for the last 8 years and is competing in it again this year.

This year the Idaho Sled Dog Challenge has attracted teams from eight states and Canada, and the roster includes Montanans Josi Thyr and Nicole Lombardi -- the winners of last year's 300-mile and 100-mile races, respectively -- plus a married couple, a father and son, a son and mother, and two brothers.

Six Idahoans are on the roster. Jed Stephensen from Sandpoint took third place in the 300-mile race last year and is returning for the event, as well as competing as a rookie in the Iditarod this year. Preston-based Bryce Mumford, who won the Eagle Cap Extreme's 200-mile race in 2017, is advancing to the 300-mile race after having vied in the 100-mile event last year. Thomas Blackham from Terreton, Kevin Daugherty from McCall, and Trevor Warren from Council are running the 100-mile race. And Liz Nevills from Middleton is participating in the Warm Lake stage race.

The remaining mushers hail from California, Colorado, Michigan, Montana (including spouses Jana and Ryan Roberts from Stevensville and Seppa Francis, the sole competitor in the 2020 event's 37-mile junior race, from Seeley Lake), Oregon, Utah (including Mumford's father, Rex Mumford, from Huntsville, who is also advancing to the 300-mile event this year, and brothers Dallin and Wade Donaldson from Coalville), and Washington.

The roster will be finalized Jan. 10. Spectators can find that on the website along with bios for the mushers.

Exceptional Animal Care And Trails

Wortley says the Idaho Sled Dog Challenge boasts top-notch veterinarians, too.

We have some great vets from the West Central Mountains and from the Boise area and they've all worked on the Iditarod, he says. As part of our safety regimen we insist on great dog care, so we have a lot of medical talent. We want to see the sport flourish, and we can't do that without taking good care of our animals.

Looney says they couldn't stage the race without help from Valley County's trail groomers and the local snowmobilers, too.

Our race course has to be groomed, because there's so much vertical that the dogs can't pull sleds uphill in deep snow, he says. There's a very symbiotic and extremely important relationship between race organizers and the trail groomers and local snowmobilers, who are very dedicated to helping keep the races going.

Valley County grooms 500 miles of snowmobile trails, and the trails we utilize for the sled dog race are part of that network. We're super grateful to be able to use them, and we stage the races midweek so we don't compete with recreational snowmobilers during those coveted weekends. Valley County helps out a ton at the checkpoints, too, by grooming the rest areas for the dogs.

Following The Races

Spectators can follow the races online day and night vi A GPS   sled trackers or by visiting five road-accessible checkpoints.

The 300-mile and 100-mile races start at the Lake Cascade checkpoint like last year, with the former race finishing there, too, and the latter race finishing at the Wye Trailhead & Campground checkpoint near New Meadows. There are three other road-accessible checkpoints: the Little Ski Hill in McCall, the Platt Warming Hut on West Mountain Rd. in Donnelly, and Wellington Snow Park in Smiths Ferry. A sixth checkpoint at 3rd Fork Cabin is not accessible by road.

2023 Race Schedule

Race events that are open to the public and free of charge include:

  • Meet mushers Laurie and Trevor Warren -- Jan. 21 from 2-4 p.m. at the Ponderosa Center's Ludwig Terrace at 1117 E. Lake St. in McCall.
  • Warm Lake stage race start -- Jan. 25 at North Shore Lodge & Resort at Warm Lake with vet checks at 9 a.m. and the leg one start time at 11 a.m.; the address is 175 N. Shoreline Dr. Cascade, ID (from Cascade take Warm Lake Rd. 26 miles east to Warm Lake).
  • Warm Lake stage race finish -- Leg two starts at 10 a.m. Jan. 26, with an early afternoon finish back at North Shore Lodge & Resort at Warm Lake.
  • Ceremonial start -- Jan. 29 at the McCall Activity Barn at 141 Moonridge Dr. in McCall with festivities beginning at 10:30 a.m. and high-bidder dog sled rides at 11a.m. and 3 p.m. Vet checks will be held concurrently at the Ridley's parking lot at 411 Deinhard Ln. in McCall from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Parking at the ceremonial start will be extremely limited. Spectators are encouraged to carpool and arrive early. There will be limited shuttle service from the Ridley's parking lot to the Activity Barn that day.
  • Official race starts -- Jan. 30 at 10 a.m. for the 300-mile race start and 2 p.m. for the 100-mile race start, both at the Lake Cascade boat ramp on Lake Cascade Parkway between Lakeshore Bar & Grill and Lake Cascade State Park's Van Wyck Campground.
  • 100-mile race finish -- Early morning to early afternoon Jan. 31 at the Wye Trailhead & Campground checkpoint off U.S. Route 95 about 6 miles west of New Meadows (turn east on Tamarack View Dr. at the Wye Trailhead sign).
  • 300-mile race finish -- Feb. 1 throughout the day at the Lake Cascade boat ramp.

Please Leave Pet Dogs At Home

Organizers implore people to leave their pet dogs at home. Last year an incident initiated by a spectator's pet dog at the 100-mile race start caused a sled dog team to take a tumble.

Parking And Shuttles

Like last year, there is no event parking at the Lake Cascade checkpoint (i.e., the race starting line at the boat ramp), so organizers have arranged for buses to shuttle spectators there from a nearby parking area. Wortley says to plan to arrive early and catch a bus at Davis Ranch off ID-55 one-half mile north of town at 19 Warm Lake Rd., Cascade, ID 83611.

Buses will run about every 20 minutes from the large, plowed parking area Jan. 30 and will shuttle spectators to and from the Lake Cascade checkpoint from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Checkpoint Schedule

Optimal times for watching mushers and their sled dogs arrive and depart the other road-accessible checkpoints include:

  • Cascade -- From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Jan. 30 for the official race starts, all day Jan. 31 when mushers and their teams in the 300-mile race have a mandatory minimum six-hour layover, and early afternoon and throughout the night Feb. 1 for the 300-mile race finish.
  • Platt Warming Hut -- In the evening Jan. 30 and very early in the morning Jan. 31 for the 100-mile racers and all day and evening Feb. 1 for the 300-mile teams.
  • Little Ski Hill -- Early morning to midday Jan. 31 when mushers and their teams in the 100-mile race have a mandatory minimum three-hour layover
  • Wye Trailhead & Campground -- Early morning and throughout the day Jan. 31 for the 100-mile race finish and late evening Jan. 31 through midday Feb. 1 for the 300-mile racers.
  • Smiths Ferry -- Early evening Jan. 30 and throughout the night into Jan. 31 for the 300-mile teams.

Estimated checkpoint times can vary by many hours depending on trail conditions, so race officials encourage spectators to monitor the trackers when planning checkpoint visits. Visit for checkpoint locations, driving directions, a local resources guide, musher bios, and more.

In addition to the race starts and finishes, we highly encourage visiting our five road-accessible checkpoints as the races progress, Wortley says. Watching and cheering for the teams along the trail as they arrive and depart the checkpoints and witnessing firsthand how the mushers care for their dogs as they get some much-deserved rest is an unforgettable experience.

Volunteers Needed

The race is seeking volunteers to help with everything from handling dogs to managing parking, setting up and staffing checkpoints, providing food, operating ham radios, putting up fencing, moving straw bales, and assisting at the start and finish lines. Visit for a list of available positions and to sign up.

More than 50 cash and in-kind sponsors have signed on to fund and provide the critical support necessary to ensure all the Idaho Sled Dog Challenge events succeed.

Wortley says opportunities are still available to help bankroll the race -- which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit -- ranging from $100 to $10,000 and are tax deductible.

Idaho Sled Dog Challenge

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