Ideal racing conditions expected for Beargrease

Ideal Beargrease weather

Beargrease mushers describe the ideal temperature and snow conditions for sled dog racing.

The 39th John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon starts Sunday, and weather has already presented some challenges for mushers. 

“We had that wet, heavy snow to start with and then, you know, the speeds slowed way down, trying to train in that, you know, really thick snow,” said two-time champion Blake Freking.

The record-breaking December snowfall made trails hard to clear at times. 

“It’s just trying to balance mushing and work with the crazy amount of snowfall that we’ve gotten this year,” said Beargrease 40 musher Melissa Mendelson. “You’re constantly digging out. You’re clearing trails from trees that have fallen. You’re grooming constantly. So it just makes it really hard to keep up.”

Thick snow becomes even more difficult to train in when there are temperatures in the thirties like we have had this January.

“It’s when you’re stepping through packed snow, but it’s warm, you’re stepping even deeper,” said Mendelson. “And so it just makes it really hard to walk through. The other thing is it it builds up on your brake and your drag mat.”

Warmer temperatures are also challenging for the dogs. 

“They get to a point, they’ll start to slow down a little bit and that’s just kind of a self-preservation, but they will start to overheat a little bit,” said Freking. “But we take precautions to take care of that. We’ll give them more breaks. I always stop. My dogs like to roll in the snow, so I’ll just stop and let them roll and play.”

Just like humans, sled dogs have a temperature they prefer.

“I would say -10 to 0 is probably their happy place, and they’re good up until well into the twenties. They’re fairly comfortable, but I think that’s where they’re best is like -10 to 0,” said Freking.

Although it’s been difficult to maintain trails, our snowy winter has been mostly beneficial for Beargrease mushers.

“As long as the trails are groomed, it’s great because usually you need about 6 to 8 inches of packed snow,” said Mendelson.

Conditions will be chilly for mushers, spectators, and volunteers for this year’s Beargrease. They will, however, be ideal race conditions in the eyes of mushers. 

“Whether it’s snow or cold or wind or water. I mean, Mother Nature always throw something at us,” said Freking.

WDIO will have live coverage at the start of the race livestreamed and on-air at 10 am Sunday. All Beargrease coverage can be found at