DARBY- You could hear their whimpering all the way from Lost Trail, as dozens of excited dogs were getting ready to race in the snow

Crews of dogsled racers and racing enthusiasts gathered at Gibson Trail Saturday as it opened up to Skijoring and sled dog racing for the 11th annual Darby Dog Sled Race.

Mushers and their dogs from all around gathered to run in the race. You could bring your own dog and race in Skijoring, and more organized teams raced in eight, six and 4 dog racing. The trail they race on is maintained and manned by volunteers.

Dogsleds are a traditional mode of movement that dates back thousands of years. Nowadays, those who do it for sport are called mushers. The word “mush” a corruption of the French word Marche, generally describes the act of transport by dogsled.

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Sled race Founder Nicki Arndt says that when she moved to Montana she was disappointed in the lack of short distance dog sled racing

“When I moved to Montana there was [hardly any] print racing,” said Arndt, “and that’s one of the reasons we started this race. There also weren’t too many races for beginners. So we wanted a race that was family friendly, beginner friendly, had shorter distance races, as well as had some of the bigger like we have [a] eight-dog 24-mile race as well.

“There is something about being on the back of the sled, out on the trail. It’s quiet. Not like in the parking lot when the dogs can’t wait to go. Once they get on the trail the barking stops in all you hear is their feet hitting the snow and the squeak of the runner across the snow,” Arndt added. “It’s like a drug the 1st time you do it if you don’t want to get addicted to it, don’t ever try it.”

Arndt says that the Bitterroot Mushers welcome anyone interested in learning to dogsled, and offer beginner musher runs.

One of the most notable racers was Kasey Turner, a 10-year-old from Wyoming. She’s raced the last four years and doesn’t plan to stop.

“Well…I really look forward to just go a little faster every year,” said Turner “and maybe [get] more competitive because most of my dogs are really shy. I’m happy to be here to be here with my dogs and in my favorite state, Montana.”

Turner and her family are one of many well-traveled crews that breed and train their dogs year-round for these events.

-Donal Lakatua reporting for MTN