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Frazee gets its sled dog racing on at Third Crossing Rendezvous

One of Andre Duvall's dogs took an unfortunate step off the hard-packed track, causing him to stumble before regaining his footing. It may have cost Duvall the race, as his team finished second. Vicki Gerdes/Tribune1 / 4
The sleds stood ready for the race before the dogs were hooked up. Vicki Gerdes/Tribune2 / 4
Steve Walwick, at left, gives one of his pups an affectionate rub on the head before Saturday's 4-dog pro race. Vicki Gerdes/Tribune3 / 4
Jason sannes-Venhuizen, left, with Darrel Seeger and Cain, the dog that gave him a first-place win over Tom Roos, far right, in the skijoring race. Vicki Gerdes/Tribune4 / 4

Though Mother Nature may have cooperated by bestowing plenty of snow and moderate temperatures on Saturday's Third Crossing Sled Dog Rendezvous, a distinct lack of sunshine did create less-than-ideal course conditions for the mushers.

"The guys can't really see the trail edges, and the dogs can't either," explained Frazee Sled Dog Club president Neal Seeger.

When one or two of the dogs inadvertently run off the trail, or even put one foot off course, it can cause injuries to the dogs, and sometimes to the mushers or skijorers -- racers who use cross country skis in place of sleds, pulled by one or two dogs -- as well, he added. And of course, crashes happen as well (though none were reported Saturday).

Nevertheless, all 24 registered sled and skijoring teams crossed the finish line relatively unscathed, Seeger said.

He said that while there were plenty of spectators -- an estimated 200 people watched the racers, either from the parking lot above the course, or down in the lowlands next to the racers -- the club was hoping for a few more participants in the races themselves.

"There were maybe a couple of reasons" for the lower-than-expected musher turnout, Seeger said.

One of them was the fact that the Frazee races are all mass start events rather than having the teams start one at a time.

"I think we're one of the few mass start races in the state," Seeger said.

For that reason, many of the mushers have had little to no experience with a mass-start race, and "they don't feel confident, so they stay away."

Another reason is that while northwest Minnesota and surrounding areas have had plenty of snow in the past month, the southern part of the state has had little to no precipitation since mid-January -- when a statewide lack of snowfall and icy trail conditions prompted organizers of the Frazee races to reschedule the event for a month later.

"They're (southern Minnesota trails) still sitting on ice yet," Seeger said. "There's no snow on top."

Icy trails make dangerous conditions for sled dogs and mushers alike, Seeger said, so many teams in the southern part of the state have had little to no practice time this year.

But the generous amount of snow that the Frazee area has experienced since mid-January has prompted sled dog club members to consider scheduling next year's Third Crossing Sled Dog Rendezvous in February as well, Seeger said.

"We've got better snow conditions and longer days" than in January, he said, when the sun sets much earlier. "We're looking at keeping it as a February event."

In the 14 years since the first official Third Crossing Sled Dog Rendezvous was held in 1999, roughly one-third of the races have had to be rescheduled, or cancelled altogether, "because of too little snow, or too much snow."

Holding the event later in the season will hopefully lessen some of that unpredictability, Seeger said.

In addition to boosting participation in the races themselves, Seeger said, club members are hoping to see a similar increase in membership, which has dwindled to about 15 active members.

"We're always looking for more members," he said.

For one thing, planning and organizing a race like the Third Crossing Rendezvous is a major undertaking, even when the event is scaled down from two days to one.

"People do keep coming back to help, because of the excitement of having the dogs here, and the beauty of watching it (racing)," Seeger said.

"But if people don't continue to step up and volunteer, events do go by the wayside" because even the most die-hard enthusiasts do start to get burnt out when the numbers aren't there to provide adequate support, he added.

Race results

Third Crossing Sled Dog Rendezvous at Frazee, Saturday, Feb. 23.

Skijoring - 1) Jason Sannes-Venhuizen, 16:57; 2) Tom Roos, 16:58; 3) Tom Carlson, 18:08; 4) Thaddeus McCamant, 18:09; 5) Cierra Duvall, 19:01; 6) Doug Wells, 23:58; 7: Nicholas Grabow, 25:42.

Three-Dog Junior - 1) Jaymie Bzdok, 16:02; 2) John Bzdok, 16:21; 3) Emily Hanson, 18:30; 4) Fasteena Duvall, 19:11.

Four-Dog - 1) Jordyn Bzdok, 14:33; 2) Andre Duvall, 18:19; 3) Marilyn Peterson, 18:44; 4) Steve Walwick, 23:04.

Six-Dog - 1) Ted Wallace, 28:27; 2) Coreene Hanson, 29:38; 3) Kirk Feller, 32:42; 4) Jake Robinson, 32:42.

Eight-Dog - 1) Jake Robinson, 37:40; 2) Bob Bzdok; 3) Ted Wallace, 40:52; 4) Sherry Johnson, 42:27; 5) Steven Peterson, 45:52.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454