SEELEY LAKE – Seeley Lake musher Roy Etnire finished third in this year's 100-mile Race to the Sky. He was the only local musher to participate in their year's race.
Etnire operates Mystik North Sleddogs and has been mushing for eight years. He won the 2014 Eagle Cap 100 and the Race to the Sky 100 in 2013 and 2014. He received the Race to the Sky Best Cared for Team Award in 2014.
Twenty mushers from Montana, Alaska, Utah, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Canada competed in this year's 100 and 300-mile Race to the Sky. Of the 11 adult mushers in the 100 mile race, three teams withdrew.
Etnire pulled into the first check point at White Tail Ranch at 8:22 p.m. Saturday night. After his six-hour layover, he headed to the finish line at Morrell Creek, ending the race at 8 a.m. Sunday morning.
"It was a good race," said Etnire. "The dogs performed better than I thought they would."
Sidney and Gondor led his team. Sidney has been leading since he was one and he is now seven years old. Gondor has led for the past three years, starting when he was three.
This is the first race in the last five years that Etnire has run without his big wheel dog Merlin. Merlin was having some health issues and was not up for the distance.
"It was a challenge for me mentally not to have him," said Etnire.
However Etnire was pleased with how well his two young dogs did. Henry and Fred had never raced before but they performed very well, Etnire said.
He only had to let one of his dogs ride in the sled for a while after she was wearing herself out running in the soft snow on the side of the trail instead of on the hard pack.
"The trail was really good," said Etnire. "She just kept getting off to the side and got drug by the team."
Etnire said that while they weren't expecting the trail to be groomed for the 300 mile race up Rice Ridge, the Seeley Lake Driftriders were able to fix the piston bully and got it done.
"I told the 300-mile racers that the trail was rough but had a good base. Instead it was a beautiful groomed trail," said Etnire. "When our teams got there Saturday night, it was a virgin trail except for the two snowmobiles [that were the trail checkers]."
There were a few sketchy parts of the race that Etnire said he can laugh about now. At one of the recreation parking lots after the trail crosses the Blackfoot River, Etnire said there was a volunteer waving the mushers with a flashlight pointing out the trail. His dogs, having run the route at least six times prior to the race, did not follow the volunteer's directions to go around the newly plowed five-foot hill of snow. Etnire said his team lined up perfectly with the gate and took him right over the top of the hill. Steve Riggs, who was behind Etnire, later told Etnire that his team followed the scent of Etnire's dog and took him over the plowed hill as well.
"We are at the mercy of the leaders," said Etnire. "I can't image what [the volunteer] was thinking at 2:30 in the morning."
Etnire called Monture Road "the bomb zone" because of all the large balls of snow that were in the road from the plow. His dogs jumped right over the snowballs leaving him to manage the sled over sometimes basketball-sized balls of ice.
"It was really scary at the time because they were not soft," said Etnire. "I was happy to have a solid sled that could take it and I was ready if the sled were to throw me sideways."
The eight-mile stretch after the mushers leave White Tail Ranch was a frozen road of gravel and ice. Etnire said there was no way to stop the dogs on this stretch, all he could do was slow them down.
"I was right on the line of out of control," said Etnire who said his whole body was vibrating and it was all he could do to stay on the sled.
Riggs had forgotten to put his goggles before leaving White Tail Ranch so was forced to ride the eight-mile stretch with no eye protection. Etnire said Riggs told him his goggles were in his jacket pocket but he did not dare let go of the sled for 10 seconds to put them on for fear of falling off and losing his team.
Etnire followed in Rick Larson of Sand Coulee, Mont. who finished at 7:16 a.m. and Joe Carson of Wasilla, Alaska who ended at 7:40 a.m.
Roger Dey, Blackfoot Valley Dispatch
Seeley Lake musher Roy Etnire heading towards White Tail Ranch at the start of the 100 mile Race to the Sky Saturday, Feb. 11.
"I was driving the dogs really hard thinking I could beat Carson," said Etnire. "I enjoyed running the dogs. They performed very well."
Adam Buch of Cranbrook, BC, Canada earned the red lantern award when his team was the last to cross the finish line at Morrell Creek at 2:32 p.m. Sunday afternoon.
Laurie Warren of Council, Idaho won the 300 mile Race to the Sky crossing the finish line in Lincoln at 8:53 p.m. Monday night. She was followed by Spencer Bruggeman at 10:16 p.m. followed by his father Brett Bruggeman at 10:16:10 p.m.
"Everyone was really happy," said Etnire. "I want to thank the whole community. As a race organizer I would like to see it get bigger and better. Every bit of notoriety that Seeley Lake can have is good for the whole community. The more people we can bring to Seeley Lake the better."