Sled dogs are an historic and fascinating part of Alaska’s history, and a vibrant part of today’s culture. 1987 Yukon Quest Champion and 20 time Iditarod finisher Bill Cotter, running dogs turned out to be a lifetime passion, one he readily shares with visitors to his Fairbanks area kennel. For an authentic Alaskan experience with some of its most exuberant residents, come meet the Alaskan huskies at Cotter’s Sled Dog Kennel.
Take ride with the Great Dogs of the Iditarod
Get the real story about what it’s like to raise, care for, and run dogs in the famed “Great Race” – Alaska’s 1,000+ mile Iditarod. Bill Cotter’s crew will pick you up in Fairbanks and bring you to his home base in Nenana, about an hour away.
There you’ll tour the kennel, meet his 32 dogs, learn their personalities, and see how they relate to their closest friend and master, Bill, as they watch his every move. A visit to Cotter’s kennel gives you insight into what it’s really like to live a sled-dog lifestyle: seeing the musher/dog relationship in action is a truly a unique experience.
When you hop on the sled for a 50-minute ride around the surrounding wilderness, you’ll be running on snow, enjoying not only the dogs, but also the scenic beauty of the Tanana River and a forest of birch and spruce. The brisk wind in your face and the yipping of your excited canine “motor” brings on the same exhilarating thrill mushers have felt since the 1800s, when these powerful animals often cost in the thousands of dollars.
Afterward, warm up with coffee or cocoa next to the wood stove in Cotter’s dutch-style home. Peek at his trophies and racing memorabilia – just a few of the mementos gathered from decades living a musher’s dream.
Learn to mush or race
Want to try running dogs yourself? Bill makes it look easy – and through his Sled Dog School, you can stay out at Nenana for a day or up to a week and learn from a seasoned professional everything it takes to handle, care for and run the dogs. You will get to run your team each day.
This amazing opportunity also gives you time to work with an expert, one who ran dozens of Iditarod races and also received several humanitarian awards. Bill was inspired to get into dog mushing by his friend Joe Redington, Sr., the “Father of the Iditarod.” From Cotter, you’ll learn what it takes to feed dogs on the trail, keep them healthy and in high spirits for the trail ahead.
The Sled Dog School also caters to novice mushers looking to beef up skills needed to run a qualifying sled dog race. This is one of the best ways to test whether you’re ready to run the Iditarod or Yukon Quest yourself! (You can even lease a team from Bill for qualifying races.) He is praised by former students for creating individualized programs, and for being a patient and thorough teacher.
The Sled Dog School includes room and board, so you can maximize your time with the dogs and your guide.
What to bring
Bring your warm clothes, including a parka and boots. However, if you do not have your own, Bill does have parkas and boots available for your use. Once you get moving on the sled, the wind will be brisk, so pack a warm hat and gloves too! Of course, you’ll want a camera to get great shots of you with Bill and the dogs.