The Lake Minnetonka Klondike Dog Derby is back this year after taking 2021 off due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 40-mile race begins the morning of Saturday, Feb. 5, on Water Street in downtown Excelsior. Thirty mushers and about 240 dogs will race two 20-mile loops around Lake Minnetonka as they compete for a portion of the $40,000 prize.
"We’re most excited to be able to share with people an awesome sport usually only visible at the start and located far beyond a major metro area. And this event creates a unified happiness — for the dogs, mushers and thousands of spectators, many of whom are kids," Dale Kurschner of the Klondike Dog Derby told Bring Me The News on Monday.
Spectators can watch dogs take off from the starting line at the Klondike Village in downtown Excelsior, where there will be beer and spirits tents, food trucks and entertainment, or from along the groomed race trail on the frozen lake. Here's a map:
The day kicks off with an opening ceremony at 9:30 a.m. followed by the race start, with teams departing one by one down Water Street and onto the lake between 10-11:15 a.m. Viewing sled dog teams around the lake is best from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with dogs expected to cross the finish line in downtown Excelsior between noon and 5 p.m. (unless it snows, then it might take them longer to finish).
Klondike-related events, which are free, continue until 10 p.m. Saturday in Excelsior and include a post-race party at Excelsior Brewing Company.
The dog derby isn't just a one-day event. The festivities begin on Friday, Feb. 4, with a meet-the-mushers and hug-a-husky event from 4-6 p.m. in the West Parking Lot in downtown Excelsior.
Mushers in this year's race hail from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Alaska, and Canada, and include some well-known competitors on the sled dog scene. Among them:
- Blake Freking, of Finland, Minnesota, is a two-time John Beargrease Marathon champion and veteran of the Iditarod, Yukon Quest and other sled dog races. He'll be competing with his 11-year-old daughter, Elena Freking. This will be her first big race.
- Lena Morgan, 17, of Britt, Minnesota, built her sled dog team from scratch and will be running in this weekend's race instead of the 40-mile John Beargrease Sled Dog race in northeastern Minnesota this week.
- Dave Hochman, of Manitoba, won the Klondike in 2020, and he'll be bringing back two of his dogs from that race: Nelson, a 5-year-old Alaskan husky, and Lucy, a 4-year-old hound cross.
- Nathan Schroeder of Goodland, Minnesota, who is a four-time John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon winner and the 2014 Iditarod Rookie of the Year. He finished 16th at the Klondike race in 2020
- Ryan Redington of Wasilla, Alaska, who was won several races, including the Beargrease and Gunflint Mail Trail. He took third place in the 2020 Klondike race.
Also on Friday, spectators will also be able to see sled dogs go through their veterinary checks ahead of the race the next morning. The checks are being held from 9:30 a.m. to noon and 2-4 p.m. in the same parking lot.
And the Excelsior Dock Cinema will open for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic for a 6 p.m. showing of the movie Balto. The movie will also be shown at 12:30 and 6:30 p.m. on Saturday.
Here's a complete schedule of all the free weekend events and information to know before you go, including details on the free shuttle to get to downtown Excelsior because parking will be limited around Klondike Village.
Organizers remind attendees to not bring their pets to the event (ADA service animals are allowed).