Teresa Petterson is obviously the adventurous sort.
With temperatures hovering near 20 below, Petterson has just finished hooking herself into a harness and stepping into her skate skis at the base of Skalkaho Pass.
As she is making her final preparations for what promises to be a wild ride up the mountainside, her two highly active wirehaired pointing griffons named Swix and Gralig are happily exploring the snow-covered countryside.
The two dogs are clad in bright orange harnesses of their own in preparation for the upcoming skijoring adventure that will test their energy with Petterson’s skills on skis.
Petterson had first started the sport while in Colorado where skijoring has garnered a wide following that features races, clinics and lots of camaraderie. Most years, Petterson had her pick of seven or so races. Those events offered something for everyone from the most serious of racers to those just wanting to give the sport a try.
That’s something that Petterson hopes will soon happen in Montana as well.
“Any dog over 30 pounds can do this,” she said. “How much better does it get than getting outside to exercise your dogs in the wintertime while letting them doing all the work?”
This coming weekend, people interested in learning more about the winter sport that offers a chance for exercise for both human and canine, can make the journey to the top of Lost Trail Pass to watch the 10th annual running of the Darby Dog Derby.
That event features both dogsledding and skijoring races, with opportunities for spectators to visit with the men and women who participate in both activities.
Nicki Arndt of Darby is one of the original organizers of the Darby Dog Derby.
She’s amazed at how the community has come together to make that event the success that it is.
“This couldn’t have happened without all the help that we get every year from a lot of different groups,” Arndt said.
The Bitterroot Cross County Skiers, Ridgerunner Snowmobile Club, Lost Trail Powder Mountain, Bitterroot Radio Club and the Darby school system are some of the main organizations that help make the two full days of dogsledding and skijoring possible.
“We always hear a lot of great comments from the mushers how come to take part,” she said. “They tell us we have the best musher dinner anywhere at the Blue Joint restaurant.”
“They also love our trail,” Arndt said. “It is so well groomed and marked. It’s challenging, but not so challenging that a beginner couldn’t do it.”
The racing gets started both days at 9:30 a.m. with skijoring featuring both one- and two-dog teams. Around 10:30 a.m., the dogsledding gets underway with first the eight-dog teams racing 23 miles. Once those teams have left, the six-dog team racers will be sent on their way.
Spectators will also have a chance to watch some junior racers leave with their two-dog teams. When everyone returns, the four-dog team racers will get their chance to run a six-mile race.
“There’s always something to see,” Arndt said. “The concessions this year will be handled by the Darby High School so people can grab a bite in between races.”
For many spectators, the chances to learn about the sport go well beyond watching the racers hurry away from the starting line.
“People really do love to talk about their dogs and share their love of the sport,” Arndt said. “Right before they go out isn’t really the best time to try to talk with them though. When they come back, most are happy to share what they know.”
For those looking to arrive at the starting line somewhat well informed, Arndt said the Bitterroot Mushers’ website, www.bitterrootmushers.org, contains a spectator information page for the first time this year.
The race starts at the parking lot at the top of Lost Trail Pass. Nearly all of the parking available there is set aside for race participants. Spectators should be prepared for a short hike from the ski area’s parking lot.
Arndt said it’s not a good idea to try to park alongside the highway. The Montana Highway Patrol has warned against that, and cars have been towed in the past.
One of the fan’s favorites starts around 2 p.m. on Saturday when youngsters ages 5 to 10 get a chance to see what dogsledding is like in the peewee race.
That event offers kids a chance to step onto a sled for $5 and hold on tight for the next 100 yards as the dog heads for the finish line. At that point, they are awarded a ribbon and officially become a dog musher.
Arndt said that space is limited for that event. Anyone interested should try to get there early to sign up.
“It’s really popular,” she said. “We even had someone from Israel come up and give it a try one year. They don’t have much dogsledding there.”
Looking back, Arndt said she can’t help but feel happy that the Darby Derby is still up and going.
“When I started it, I really wasn’t sure that there would be a second annual,” she said. “We started out with a mutt pull to see if people were interested. It turned out that people were excited about it.”
Back at the bottom of Skalkaho, Petterson is just finishing clipping her lead lines onto two very excited griffons.
A second later, she’s flying up the trail at a high rate of speed as two very happy dogs send snow flying with their bootie-covered paws.
They’ll be ready this weekend to show the world how it’s done.