Barking was the first thing everyone heard in Ashton, Idaho on Valentine’s Day. Dogs harnessed to sleds barked and jumped, begging their masters to start racing. Crowds of spectators lined the snowy race track, their cameras ready. The 103rd American Dog Derby was about to begin.
Six main races were held back to back. In two-minute intervals, starting at 9 a.m. on Main St., dog sled teams began to fly down the track.
The Open Class race was first. With 10 or more dogs on each team, mushers sped off to start their 45-mile, two-day race.
Next was the Cordingly race, which covered 45 miles, with eight dogs to a sled. Following the Cordingly race was the Novice race, where experienced youth mushed 25 miles.
The Everett Heseman race was next. Each team raced to the potato fields and back, roughly 12.5 miles.
“The race is fun because we get to practice everything we’ve been training in a race setting, bringing it out to the public so that they can see what dog sledding is really all about,” said Elizabeth Nevillis, one of the mushers participating in the Heseman race.
Around noon, spectators could see the teams speeding towards the finish line. However, the festivities weren’t done yet. Event-goers were getting ready for the races on Saturday and the soup challenge that night.
When the clock struck 5:30 p.m., the smell of spices and cream drifted out of the Community Center. 11 different soups, ranging from Mexican chicken noodle to double baked potato soup, entered the soup challenge. For two dollars, visitors were able to enjoy a cup of every soup as well as the dessert bar.
“I was expecting to be really hungry after this; soup doesn’t fill me up,” said Chris Johnson, a first-time goer at the soup challenge. “But honestly? I’m full. It was amazing.”
“It challenges me as a cook to come up with new recipes that are fun and exciting,” said Sam Sturm, a three-time competitor in the soup challenge who served beef barley soup at this year’s event.
The winner of the soup challenge was the double-baked potato soup made by Hannah McCausey.
With their bellies full, spectators left the soup challenge ready for Saturday’s races.
The following day, the main races picked up where they left off. As spectators waited for the mushers to come back, they enjoyed free hot chocolate, popcorn, snowshoe races, mutt races, celebrity races and a weight pull.
At the snowshoe races, children would race to finish line where missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would help them unstrap their shoes and award them with a token for a free root beer float at the Frostop Drive-In.
Once the kids were finished, the missionaries gave snowshoeing a whirl.
After the missionaries and children finished snowshoeing, family dogs were called up to race.
The dogs also had the chance to pull weighted sleds.
After the activities came to an end, awards and certificates were given to the winners of the derby.
“I tell you what, it is a privilege having people here,” said John Scafe, committee chairman, to the crowd. “Having them continuing this race, it is a privilege. It’s just fantastic.”
Although the races had officially ended, spectators stayed a little longer. Kids played with each other in the snow as their parents talked and laughed. The derby comes once a year, and for many this is the only time they can see childhood friends. These races are steeped with tradition and reminiscence. Parents are now bringing their children with them to form the same nostalgic connection with the derby.