In my story today for New York Times, I cover the oddball uprising of so-called dryland dog sports. In lieu of sleighs on snow, participants use scooters, carts, bikes, and running shoes all in tandem with teams of dogs to move along at high speeds around the race track.
“Mushers now embrace the nonsnow disciplines as official competition,” said Dave Steele, executive director of the International Sled Dog Racing Association.
Training dogs on grass and turf is nothing new. All serious dog sledders start preparing for race season long before the snow falls.
But a lack of reliable snow cover in the East and Upper Midwest the last couple of years has prompted a cancellation rate of more than 30 percent for Isdra-sanctioned races.
Dryland competitions have gained prominence as racers realize the situation could be permanent.
“Used to be that December meant snowfall; you took it for granted, but not anymore,” said Steve Knight, a 59-year-old bus driver from Cambridge, Minn., who has raced dog sleds since 1976. “Some of the biggest names in the sport now race dryland, and it’s turning into a whole other season before winter comes.”