Special Correspondent Juno Kim offers this report from Fairbanks!
It’s always a dog mushing season in Alaska. Professional mushers prepare and train for dog mushing races year-round, including the famous Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race that kicks off in March every year. For dog mushing enthusiasts, the name Susan Butcher is frequently mentioned. Susan Butcher was only the second woman to win the Iditarod in 1986 and she won four out of five sequential years. There are less than 10 mushers who won more than four times in the nearly 50 years of Iditarod history and she is one of them and the only female. The first Saturday of every March, which is the ceremonial start of the Iditarod in Anchorage, is Susan Butcher Day, the traditional start of the race each year. So yes, Susan Butcher is a household name for dog mushing lovers.
You can learn the history of Susan Butcher’s mushing career in Trail Breaker Kennel in Fairbanks. The kennel was set up by Susan back in 1976 with the intention of competing in Iditarod. With her husband David, who is also an accomplished musher, they started the Fairbanks location of Trail Breaker Kennel in 1990 and opened the door to summer visitors to Alaska in 2005. Sadly Susan passed away in 2006 after a battle with leukemia at the age of 51 but her legacy lives on through her family and the kennel.
Trail Breaker Kennel is perfectly located by the Chena River. The winter scenery in Fairbanks is well known for its beauty and the trails here are just so magical. Now the Trail Breaker Kennel is run by her husband David and her daughters. I love visiting dog mushing kennels and learning more about this part of Alaska’s history. And of course, meeting the dogs is always a treat. It feels even more special during this pandemic era, considering how the Iditarod started (Nearly 100 years ago, the famous mission to deliver life-saving serum from Nenana to Nome led by Leonhard Seppala, saved an entire community.) It almost feels like visiting a celebrity and history museum at the same time. We met with Tekla, Susan and David’s eldest daughter, and her mushing staff. They were preparing the last tour slot of the day with us right before the setting sun. I was struck by the resemblance between Tekla and her mother. Tekla tucked us in the sled under the colorful blanket and off we went.
Susan and David’s eldest daughter Tekla is an accomplished dog musher. At age 11, Tekla mushed her own dog team on 700 miles of the Iditarod trail with her father to celebrate her mother’s legacy. Her younger sister Chisana also completed the same trip when she was 11 in 2012. The dog team at Trail Breaker Kennels has been competing in sled dog races and they don’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. It was really amazing to think that these dogs are the descendants of Susan Butcher’s champion athletes and an important part of Alaska’s history.
Heading to Fairbanks this winter? Put Trail Breaker Kennel in Fairbanks in your itinerary. The kennel offers a year-round dog sled experience and they started offering fall tours as well. They are many different options and no previous experience is required. Make sure to check out their Historic Kennel Tour if you’re interested in the history of dog mushing in Alaska and want to know more about Susan Butcher’s legacy.
Stay at the Wedgewood Resort , which offers a 15 percent discount to Alaska Travelgram readers (use discount code FHH15). The discount also is good at the sister property near the Fairbanks airport, Sophie Station.
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