Gordy Bennet, left, and Ken Leonarduzzi warm up by the fire after watching the mushers take off in the 4-dog 12-mile recreational race on Saturday, Feb. 1, at the Mushers Village.
IRON RIVER—Spectators at this year’s IronLine sled dog races found comfort and warmth at the Mushers Village by gathering together in the large heated tent filled with the scent of warm coffee and cider or by huddling around the fire outside, near the starting line.
The heated tent was new this year and provided an escape from the elements while spectators waited for their favorite musher to come around the corner and across the finish line. The tent housed vendors selling shirts, food and beverages, jams and craft items.
Allison Sloat, a musher from Team Evergreen Kennels in Skandia, who raced in the four-dog 12-mile recreational, said that although she didn’t have much time to check out the Mushers Village, she thought it was a great meet and greet area.
“They sell coffee,” she said. “We always need coffee at night. It is how we survive as mushers.”
Outside the warming tent, a few vendors gathered with their craft items to keep spectators down at the RV Park while the mushers were out on the trails.
“I think it’s a good thing to bring people into the area,” said Ginny LaFountain, a vendor selling painted glass pictures and lawn ornaments. “I wish the weather was warmer and there were more vendors, but I think this is great.”
A local couple brought their two huskies for children to pet and ask questions about the breed.
Directly outside of the warming tent, a poster was hung with the times racers reached certain check-points so handlers and spectators could keep track of where the mushers were and when they could be expected at the finish line.
Race planners were hoping for more family activities this year, such as sled-dog rides for the children, but due to a lack of volunteers, they were unable to offer that event.
Glen Warrvick was in charge of the Mushers Village and said he has plans for a bigger set-up in the future.
The main thing that runs the Mushers Village is volunteers, he said. This year, while there were many volunteers for the entire event, additional volunteers were needed to put on things like the kid rides and other activities.
“Our goal is to eventually make it like a winter festival,” Warrvick said.
In the future races, he hopes to have more space for vendors, but had received good responses from the vendors who participated in the 2014 IronLine.
Race co-director Josh Brindle also spoke about the goals he has regarding the Mushers Village in future IronLine events. He and other race planners hope to have events like a wood carving event, kid sled rides and other events to attract families and keep them there during the time between the race start and finish.
Eventually, he would like to see the Mushers Village as more of a winter extravaganza and possibly be an event as large as the U.P. Championship Rodeo.
While some spectators huddled in the warm tent, others sat around the fire, looking for any sign that a musher was on his or her way in. A few brave spectators even set up folding chairs near the finish line so they wouldn’t miss anything.
Children found the snow banks to be a great way to pass the time and flocked together, playing king of the mountain or keeping a lookout higher than most spectators for any racer coming around the corner near the finish line.