My name is Mari. For most of the last two decades, I’ve spent winters handling for all sorts. I’ve handled for two different Iditarod champions, helped get an underdog team into the top ten in the big race, and worked with hundreds of dogs. At the end of every season, you press your head against the heads of the dogs you poured your heart into, and you say goodbye. Seasonal workers must move seasonally.
I’m tired of saying goodbye, and I’m ready to build the team I’ve dreamed about since I was a kid.
That team isn’t just made up of super dogs with the very best lineage (of course I will think they are!); it’s a small group of dogs with whom I can truly bond.
My dream is finally coming true. In July of 2017 my partner and I moved to Two Rivers, Alaska, just outside of Fairbanks, to start ATAO Kennel.
What does ATAO stand for?
ATAO’s mission is to focus on a small group of dogs. Keeping numbers small means I can work closely with each teammate. I believe a dog can be brought to its best potential and greatest happiness with time and investment by me, the musher. Dogs who might normally be retired or looked over I believe can achieve a lot with dedication and work on my part.
My goal isn’t to win any big races. I’ll leave that to kennels who operate on razor’s edge strategy. My goal is to run the best, happiest, healthiest races me and my team are capable of. Maybe that means we do okay! Maybe it means we hang out in the back of the pack. I’ve run dogs near the front and I’ve run dogs near the back. The ultimate goal is that feeling you get when your team is clicking, happy, and you know you are doing right by them.
ATAO is a small group right now. We started with Hooch, the matriarch, and Ophelia, her pup. Now we have a bigger crew! Meet them all here. We’ll grow our numbers carefully and aim for the premier Alaskan / Yukon races: the Iditarod and Yukon Quest.