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Fresh snow, full field for this weekend's Gunflint Mail Run sled dog race

Dec 30, 2018 04:14PM ● By Editor
A musher and their sled dog team traverse Poplar Lake at sunrise in January 2018 during the Gunflint Mail Run in Cook County.  Photo:  Nace Hagemann |

By Andrew Krueger of Minnesota Public Radio News - December 30, 2018

Last week's winter storm dumped two feet of snow on parts of Cook County in far northeastern Minnesota — just in time to ensure great trail conditions for the annual Gunflint Mail Run sled dog race.

More snow is expected ahead of the race that takes place Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 5-6; it starts and finishes at Trail Center Lodge, along the Gunflint Trail north of Grand Marais. There are two divisions: a 12-dog, 100-mile event, and an eight-dog, 65-mile event.

In each division, mushers will traverse a trail leg twice — starting on Saturday morning, returning to Trail Center for a mandatory layover, then heading out a second time. The teams will finish from Saturday night into early Sunday; the fastest cumulative time determines the winner.

"We have 16 teams in that 100-mile race and 14 teams in the 65-mile race," said Cathy Quinn, a board member and volunteer coordinator for the race. "We capped our race at 30 teams because it's what we can manage from a logistics side, a safety side, and provide a quality race. So we're maxed out and we maxed out a few weeks ago, which is really exciting for us."

The trail heads north and west from Trail Center, with the 12-dog teams traveling nearly to the end of the Gunflint Trail.

The Gunflint Mail Run's name is a nod to history, and the role that sled dog teams once played in delivering letters and packages to remote locales in Minnesota's Arrowhead region. 

The namesake of another Minnesota sled dog race — the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon — was one of the mushers who delivered mail in winter to isolated communities along the North Shore.

Quinn said the Mail Run is the descendant of several other sled dog races held in Cook County, dating back to the 1970s.

As one of the earliest races in the Lower 48 each winter, the race draws a strong field of mushers eager to get their teams into competition.

"We've usually got good snow early in the season. I don't want to call it a training race, but in a sense it might be. One-hundred miles is not terribly far for a lot of these folks, but in the beginning of January it could be depending on where you're coming from, and how much training you've been able to complete," Quinn said. "It's kind of a kickoff to the season."

Among the entrants this year is Ryan Redington, who has won the past two Mail Runs and also won last winter's Beargrease. Redington comes from a lengendary mushing family with strong ties to Alaska's Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

To read more of this article or listen to an audio version of this story,  follow this link to the Minnesota Public Radio News website.

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