A dog sled is a sled pulled by dogs over ice or through snow. At one time, people who lived in the Arctic regions relied on sled dogs as their main mode of transportation. Sled dogs also have been used to transport supplies, mail and medicine.
Dog sled teams can travel at speeds up to 20 mph. Such travel requires endurance and speed. Though many breeds of dogs are used, two common breeds of sled dogs are Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes.
Dog sledding is sometimes called “mushing,” and a person who travels by dog sled is called a “musher.” Mushers take great care when selecting their dog sled team, which includes several dogs with different jobs. The dogs are tied together by a long “gangline” running between them.
Many mushers consider the "lead dog," which stays out front, the most important member of the pack. “Swing dogs” follow behind the lead dog and help it turn the pack. After the swing dogs come the "team dogs," which provide momentum and speed.
The “wheel dogs” bring up the rear. Wheel dogs, usually the largest dogs on the team, must be able to free the sled if it gets stuck in snow or ice.
Over the course of nine to 15 days, mushers and their teams make their way across 1,161 miles of trail. Even though race conditions can be quite brutal, with heavy snowstorms and wind-chill temperatures dropping below -100° F, the Iditarod remains the most popular sporting event in Alaska.