Grand Marais musher has sights set on Iditarod
Despite a very poor snow year for dog teams, Erin Altemus of Grand Marais has her sights set on the Iditarod.
The trail to a 1,000-mile race across Alaska was never going to be easy. But this year, there are particular challenges.
Altemus said she never dreamed that the year she decided to run the Iditarod, she’d have to train the dogs on bare ground in front of ATVs into January.
“By November, you start to think, OK I’m ready for it to snow anytime,” she said. “And then the snow just never came or when it did, it would melt or turn to ice.”
In the next couple of weeks, her husband, Matthew Schmidt, will take their Sawtooth Racing dogs to Alaska to get some training in on a better snow base. She’ll stay in Grand Marais to keep their daughter in school and then swap with him a few weeks before the Iditarod, which starts March 3.
“Good thing that Iditarod takes place in early March, so that gives us plenty of time to get up there,” Altemus said.
She is a frequent top-five Beargrease competitor, finishing as high as 4th in 2015 and 2021. She or Matt plan to run a 300-mile training race in Alaska with the Beargrease’s cancellation.
Altemus has been running dogs for about 12 years. The Iditarod has always been in the back of her mind.
“I’ve gone back and forth about whether it’s something I really want to do or not,” she said. “You know, when you’re in the middle of a big, tough race, you think, I’m not sure if I ever want to do Iditarod. This is hard enough.”
But in 2024, a friend and fellow Minnesotan, Anna Hennessy, will also race for the first time.
“I decided that that seemed like a good opportunity for me to go too, to be able to do it with a friend,” Altemus said.
They will be two of 16 rookies signed up this year out of 42 Iditarod mushers in total. Had it been a better training year, Altemus might have been gunning for the Rookie of the Year title.
“I think at this point, I just hope to finish,” she said.
Her strategy is to “follow the dogs, see how they’re feeling, and just play it leg by leg and try to get to the finish.”
Mushing Midwest is planning a party at Billy’s Bar from 12-5 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 28, when the Beargrease was supposed to start. It will include a fundraiser element, which will in part support Altemus’ Iditarod goal.