(Lander, WY) – Butts were sniffed, heads were patted and noses were booped Saturday night as sled dogs and teams from around the globe made their way to Lander’s Main Street for the annual meet and greet, in anticipation of today’s second stop in the Pedigree Stage Stop Dog Sled Race.
15 teams stopped in Lander last night to let race fans get up close and personal with the K-9 athletes, the lead mushers (aka drivers) and the team members that make it all happen.
(Apologies for some blurry photos, these doggos did NOT want to stay still!)
County 10 caught up with a few of the mushers, including defending five-time champion Anny Malo of Quebec, Canada, who said that she is looking to make it number six for 2024, and joked that she is definitely “the target” this year.
“I really like that trail from the South Pass,” Malo commented on what it’s like to return to the Fremont County stretch of this race. “The scenery is so nice.”
Cathy Rivest, who trains with Malo and is also Malo’s sister-in-law, is now competing in her third year, and finished in third place in the last two Stage Stop races.
Rivest shared that this is the first year she has a seasoned “John Deere” dog on her team, who was trained by Malo, and she looks forward to seeing what he can do.
“If I can be on the podium again it would be pretty cool. My team is strong and I’m confident.”
Austin Forney, now in his ninth year in the race, told County 10 that he looks forward to coming to Lander every year, especially considering that local former racer and current race analyst/commentator Jerry Bath was one of his mentors.
“Lander has always been close to my heart,” Forney shared. “The town of Lander always comes out and supports this race.”
Laura Bontrager, who has been running dogs for 25 years and is making her third appearance at the Stage Stop, echoed the sentiments of the other mushers in terms of being excited to return to the Lander stage of the race.
“The people are a big part of it. They come out in the cold and snow, and it’s always so windy here!”
Bontrager added that she is excited to race the South Pass trail because this will be her first time, having raced on the Sinks Canyon trail both times in the past.
“I really liked the switchbacks at the beginning of the Sinks Canyon trail, but I’m excited to see the South Pass.”
Bontrager and her kennel partner Bruce Magnusson, who has done the Stage Stop 17 times himself, almost didn’t make it to the race after getting stuck in storm for over 40 hours while on their way from Michigan.
Bontrager shared that her team has living quarters in the trailers with the dogs, and they had to hunker down on the side of the highway until the storm passed, but thankfully they were able to make it.
Good luck to Malo, Rivest, Forney, Bontrager and all of the other teams, and be on the lookout for County 10 photos and videos from today’s stop in Fremont County!