The new year has dawned and now that the Upper Peninsula is fully into winter, it's time to start thinking about sled dog races.
Even though mushers and their dogs train year-round, spectators have only a few chances to attend races, and are getting anxious for the events to occur.
They won't have to wait long, either, with the area's first sled dog event set for Saturday in Luce County.
The annual Tahquamenon Country Sled Dog Race begins at 9:30 a.m., and this year it was moved to Muskallonge Lake State Park. It was headquartered at the Rainbow Lodge at the mouth of the Two-Hearted River for the past 13 years, but the lodge and many of the trails used during the race were destroyed in last spring's Duck Lake wildfire.
The switch to the park, which is located on Luce County Road 407 about 28 miles north of Newberry, should be a smooth transition with lots of activities for the entire family.
There will be pro and sport classes of races - ranging from the 12-dog, 60-mile and 40-mile races for professionals to a pair of six-dog sport class teams running races from 4 miles to 30 miles.
In addition, there will be snowmobile safety demonstrations from 11 a.m. to noon and snowshoeing from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The day of racing can serve as a warm-up for the big U.P. 200 Sled Dog Championships in mid-February. The main 12-dog, 240-mile race, which is a qualifier for the famed Iditarod race in Alaska, gets under way the evening of Feb. 15 in downtown Marquette, a start that draws thousands of spectators.
Mushers will then head to Grand Marais, where dogs and mushers are welcomed for a long layover in a festive atmosphere. Racers will return to Marquette, expecting to begin arriving the morning of Feb. 17.
There are also shorter races, including the 60-mile Midnight Run from Marquette to Munising, with a checkpoint in Chatham, and the 30-mile Jack Pine 30, which begins and ends in Gwinn.
Following on the heels of the U.P. 200 races is the Copper Dog 150 that is set for March 1-3, beginning in downtown Calumet and running up the Keweenaw Peninsula to Copper Harbor and back.
These races are wonderful ways to help the U.P. winter go by in an enjoyable way for mushers and their dogs, spectators and the communities that host them.