The oldest American Dog Derby in the lower 48 states celebrates its 103rd anniversary in Ashton, Idaho, Feb. 14 and 15 at 9 a.m. on Main Street.
With the Dog Derby right around the corner, many people are beginning to look back to the past and how the derby came to be. To battle wintertime blues, many believe that Jay Ball, a local barber, conceived the idea of a dogsled race in Ashton. It would give people something to do and to look forward to. Plans for the Dog Derby quickly formed, and 16 local dog sled teams signed up to compete.
However, thick blankets of snow fell right before the day of the race, accumulating 20 to 40 inches.
According to American Dog Derby, “It was deep and soft enough that only four teams were able to make their way through Island Park to the starting point at West Yellowstone.”
Although 12 of the competitors were unable to make it, the race went on. On the day of the Dog Derby, March 4, 1917, the four mushers began at West Yellowstone, racing to the finish line — 55 miles away in Ashton.
After a few miles, the falling snow began to churn into a blizzard. The dogs pushed through the raging snowstorm for an entire day until the mushers decided to wait for the morning at a fish hatchery, 15 miles away from Ashton.
The next day, finishing in 26 hours and arriving 20 minutes before the other mushers, Tud Kent won the first American Dog Derby. With such a thrilling derby, people were looking forward to the next one.
Not only did visitors anticipate next year’s race, but they were also excited about the other activities held at the derby such as ski jumping, ski races and a 200-yard boys’ dogsled race.
The Dog Derby quickly became a history-rich tradition. People grew up celebrating this event, making it feel like a local holiday. With new and seasoned visitors coming every year, many made lifelong friends during the derby.
“We’ve become a very close family,” said Kathy Scafe, secretary for the American Dog Derby. “It’s more like a family reunion.”