The Copper Dog 150 races see both experienced and amateur mushers trek across the back country of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
The Copper Dog 150 is an annual sled dog event held the first weekend of March in Calumet, MI, on the Keweenaw Peninsula, the most northern region of the Great Lake State.
Mushers and their team of dogs travel through the expansive wilderness through back trails, snowmobile paths, up and down mountains, and occasionally side streets.
The event has four different races ranging in both length and difficulty. The mileage of the races include 15, 30, 80, and 150.
The length of the races also determine how many stages it has. A stage is a portion of a race that must be completed before moving onto the next, with a rest period before starting the next segment.
The 15 mile race can be completed in about an hour and a half. This race takes the mushers through and around the city of Calumet, and is intended for less experienced mushers.
The 30 mile is a slightly more demanding race taking mushers deeper into the wilderness. This race is also one stage but takes close to three hours to complete.
The 80 mile race is substantially more intense. With a length of 84.9 miles and spanning two days, this race requires experience and resilience to complete. An average time to complete the 80 is nine hours.
The 150 mile level of difficulty is substantially more challenging compared to the other races. Even though the 150 had to be cut down to 128.2 miles due to poor trail conditions as a result of warm weather, it is still a grueling race that takes an average 12 hours to complete spanning three days. Mushers who participate in the 150 have been participating in the sport for years, raising and training generations of dogs who know nothing more than the love of racing.
People who make it happen
Tom Bauer, owner of Otter River Sled Dog Training Center & Wilderness Adventure and Long-Time musher has dedicated his life to the sport and his dogs.
“You can’t just jump into an event like this, I started preparing for these kinds of events years and years ago.”
These dogs are treated like professional athletes. Race conditioning and preparation are what these breeds live for. Bauer has been doing this kind of work for over 20 years.
“In my kennel we raise our own pups and start training them at around 9 months. We get them comfortable on the gang rope, then condition them and eventually train them up to race level. You also have to train these dogs for different races. For example, this is a quicker race so we get them in shape to sprint more and recover quickly,” Bauer said.
Specific dog breeds are better suited for sled dog racing. All of Bauer’s sled dogs are Alaskan Huskies.
“These are the fastest dogs over long distances…they are basically the Jason Bourne of the dog world,” Bauer said.
While the mushers and dogs are the stars of the event, it could not occur without the hard work of the board members and volunteers.
Krissy Tepsa, volunteer director musher liaison, has been involved with the race since its inception in 2009.
“I started just doing dog handling and working as a crossing guard and it kept on evolving from there.”
She made it clear that the volunteers are what make these events possible.
“This couldn’t happen without all their help,” Tepsa said.
Jake King, a volunteer for both the Copper Dog 150 and the UP 200, has enjoyed each experience of his experiences assisting races.
“My favorite part of the experience was just seeing all the different mushers and their dogs. Being able to see how they interact with each other on the course was interesting; especially since the dogs may be well trained doesn’t mean they won’t do their own thing sometimes,” King said.