Wayne Curtis' team of Siberian Huskies stands at attention following the Spring Fling purebred races at the Beach Lake Sled Dog Trails on March 19. Siberians have been bred over thousands of years to travel long distances in harsh Arctic conditions.
STAR PHOTO BY MATT TUNSETH
Wayne Curtis isn't likely to win the Iditarod any time soon. But if the five-time race participant from Wasilla ever runs again, it's a good bet he'll arrive safe and sound in Nome thanks to a team of Siberian Huskies bred for the worst Mother Nature can dish out.
"If I'm running out in the middle of nowhere, these guys can save my life," Curtis said on March 19 at the Beach Lake Trails after winning the 12-dog class at the Chugiak Dog Mushers Association's annual Spring Fling race, a race open only to purebred teams.
Curtis said Siberians are the "classic" sled dog, bred over centuries to endure harsh conditions on Russia's Chukchi Peninsula.
"The dogs needed to survive on little food, they needed a great temperament, they needed to provide warmth for the people and their kids," he said. "And they were efficient at doing that."
He explained that Siberians were used by the Chukchi people to haul goods and supplies over long distances in rough weather while also keeping a positive attitude. Because of these traits, the dogs were the primary breed used by both competitive and working mushers until modern breeding introduced faster bloodlines to create the racing dogs used by most competitive mushers today.
"You would have seen dogs with this kind of build and this kind of coat back in the '70s and early '80s," he said.
While races like the Iditarod are usually a showcase for the speedy mutts used by the Mackeys, Seaveys and Busers of the world, some mushers still prefer to run the "old-school" Siberians. And the Chugiak area is a hotbed of purebreds. A dozen teams turned out for this year's Fling.
Curtis said he likes running purebred dogs because he's more of a mushing purist.
"I could run faster dogs," said Curtis, whose best Iditarod finish was 37th in 1997. "But I'm kind of a classic guy."
Chugiak's Marti Rhyne also used a team of Siberians to place third in the four-dog class. She said she and her husband used to show the dogs in Texas, and eventually decided they wanted to let their animals do what they were designed for.
"We came up for the Iditarod in 2000 to watch the start when I was an Iditarider and we fell in love with Alaska," she said. "Who doesn't?"
Among the dogs to finish the Spring Fling was a dog named "Love," a proud-looking white, gray and brown dog with kind auburn eyes who Curtis' wife, Chris, said ended a brilliant career at the event. She noted that Love was a three-time Iditarod finisher that always ran lead for her husband.
"This is one special dog," she said.
Wayne Curtis, who has never scratched from the Iditarod thanks to his sturdy working dogs, said dogs like Love are the reason he continues to raise and race animals who were born to run long distances in cold weather.
"Put it this way," he said. "I've had three classic Mustangs and one new one. I don't have the new one anymore."
Contact Matt Tunseth at firstname.lastname@example.org or 694-2727.
This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, March 23, 2011.