During winter and the Iditarod season, you may wonder: What is a musher? You hear epic stories about mushers braving the cold, being dragged around on their faces, and bonding with their team. A musher is many things, but number one is a friend to their team of dogs.
Many of my readers by now know what a musher is, since I am one. But there are those out there who wonder! Being a musher myself, I have given this question some real thought. My readers probably know more about distance mushers, but there are all kinds of mushers out there! So I’ve made a list of some different things that make a musher.
1. What is a musher?
- A musher is the coach and human companion of dogs who love to pull things and run.
- A musher cares for their dogs in many ways. Mushers feed, love, exercise, and entertain their dogs. Mushers also provide a home, family, and vet care for their dogs. Finally, mushers provide a cart, sled, or other transport for their dogs to pull. Mushers let their dogs do what they love most: pull and run!
2. Sled dog mushers
- A sled dog musher is a musher whose dogs pull a sled in the winter. Sled dog mushers coach their team of sled dogs through expeditions, races long and short, camping runs, and other methods of winter travel. Sled dog mushers usually live further north or south, where snow comes for part of the year, making trails where the dogs can pull a sled.
- Sprint sled dog mushers and their teams participate in short, fast races, up to 50 miles long or so per leg. Sprint races can happen in multiple legs. There are different “classes” within the sprint mushing system, based on the number of dogs in a team. Here’s a link some information about sprint mushing in Fairbanks, Alaska.
- Distance sled dog mushers and their teams participate in races 50 miles or longer, up to 1,000 miles. These races take many days and involve camping and often remote travel. Here is a link to the Yukon Quest, a premier distance sled dog race.
3. Dryland mushers
- Dryland mushers ride or stand on the back of scooters, carts, specially made wheeled rigs, cars, skateboards, or other wheeled vehicles that a team of dogs pull in snowless climes. Some dryland mushers also mush over sand! Check out this great article from Medium about the growing popularity of dryland mushing in the US.
4. Dedication and priorities
- A musher spends a huge amount of money on their dogs, because to a musher, there is no better place to spend money. Dogs of this caliber eat the finest foods, receive the highest vet care, and are some of the best athletes on the planet. Here is an interesting link about how much distance mushers spend to run the Iditarod.
- A musher always puts their dogs first. Check out some of the great articles at Mushing Magazine to learn more about mushing!
Being a Distance Musher
I am a distance sled dog musher. I have a small kennel of Alaskan Huskies (the coolest dogs in the world!), who we like to call “purebred Alaskan mutts.” This type of dog comes from a mix of all kinds of breeds. Alaskan Huskies are bred for their athletic abilities, not their looks. Even though “Alaskans” can look very different across the breed, recent research shows that their genetic markers are as similar as longstanding purebred dogs! Check out the study here.
My kennel aims to take great care of our furry friends, have a blast and finish races with tails wagging, and overcome obstacles on the way to adventure. We aim to run the two premier 1,000 mile races: the Iditarod in 2021, and the Yukon Quest in 2022. As a musher, I’m only a small part of the whole team. You can meet the really important teammates of ATAO Kennel here: Meet the Team. You can also follow our Facebook page to hear about our adventures!
I mostly know other distance mushers. Do you know any sprint or dryland mushers? Have you gotten to try mushing yourself? (Yes! Being pulled along the street on your skateboard by Fido counts!) Let us know in the comments!