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Dogsled racing, or sleddog racing, which is the more accurate term, involves sleds pulled by dogs, usually over snow-covered terrain and cross-country courses. As a winter sport, dogsled racing involves timed competition of teams of sled dogs that pull a sled with a dog driver, or musher, standing on the runners. The team completing the marked course in the least amount of time is judged the winner. Dogsledding was developed as a major method of transportation for Eskimos. They were also used at that time for freight hauling and mail delivery, as well as by fur trappers to travel between their traps. Sled dogs are still used for transportation and working purposes in some areas of the Arctic, although they have mostly been replaced by use of snowmobiles and aircraft.

Dogsled races may be sprint races over relatively short distances of 4 to 25 miles per day, mid-distance races from 28 to 200 miles, or long-distance races of 200 to over 1000 miles. The most famous long-distance race is the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Alaska, which is called “The Last Great Race on Earth.” Sprint races are usually two or three-day events with heats run on successive days with the same dogs over the same course. Mid-distance races are either heat races of 14 to 80 miles per day, or continuous races of 100 to 200 miles approximately. Long-distance races may be continuous or stage races, in which participants run a different course each day, usually from a central staging location. Generally the teams start one after another in equal time intervals, competing against the clock rather than against each other. Mass starts where all of the dog teams start simultaneously are very popular in many parts of Canada. Sometimes thought of as “mass confusion” by those who have never experienced a mass start, it is still the start method preferred by the members of Ma-Mow-We-Tak Sled Dog Racing Association, a Canadian sled dog association.

Races are categorized not only by distance, but by the maximum number of dogs allowed in each team. The most common categories are four-dog, six-dog, eight-dog, ten-dog, and unlimited (also called open) dog teams. It is unusual ever to see more than 22 dogs hooked at once in a racing team, and that number is usually seen only on the first day of the most highly competitive sprint events. Dogs may be omitted from the teams on subsequent days, but none may be added. Many other rules apply, most of which have been in effect since the beginning of organized dogsled racing in the city of Nome, Alaska, in 1908.


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