The 2009 Alaska Dog Mushers Sled Dog Symposium was kicked off this year with a special free showing of the new digitally enhanced Spirit of the Wind, now renamed Attla. The story of George Attla growing up in the village of Huslia who went on to win the Anchorage Fur Rondy, drew a sell-out crowd to the Pioneer Park Civic Center. While the show was free, the opportunity to see the stars of the movie together was the main draw. Movie goers included current sled dog racing champions like Jeff King, Ken Anderson and Jeff Conn, and many more. The crowds cheered and applauded as Attla crossed the line to win his first Rondy. After the showing, a great photo opportunity developed: Attla, Pius Savage—the star who played him in the movie, and Merv Hilpipre—who played Gareth Wright, stood together in an honest embraced of friendship. (Pictured above) A steady stream of mushing fans lined up to get autographed copies of Spirit of the Wind books and videos.Frank Turner of Whitehorse enjoyed the show, “I thought the Friday night showing of Spirit of the Wind was super and had as much emotion as entertainment.” The emotion was not only felt by Turner, Mike Ellis said “After watching Spirit of the Wind on Friday night, we got to meet George Attla—it gave me goosebumps.”The symposium continued with informative and educational dog care topics such as foot care on the trail by Yukon Quest champion and multi-Iditarod veteran Aliy Zirkle. Dr. Mike Davis of Oklahoma State University presented his findings on canine ulcers, and the sled dog’s ability to adapt, and even recover their glycogen and energy stores while on the trail during 300 mile to 1000 mile races. Top Iditarod and Yukon Quest mushers Lance Mackey, Sebastian Schneulle, Ken Anderson and Jeff King formed a panel to ask Dr. Davis questions relating to their own experiences. Dr. Davis was thrilled with the enthusiasm of the Fairbanks crowd during both of his talks, “I was very much encouraged by the fact that in both instances, someone had to force us off the stage due to unending discussion. There was certainly interest!”Mike and Sue Ellis, who recently relocated to Fairbanks were excited to see the symposium. Mike says “I had a blast at the symposium. The talks that Dr. Mike Davis gave were so important that no distance musher should go another day without hearing the information he shared.”Turner says “My handlers generally thought the symposium was quite beneficial. The sessions by Mike Davis were particularly useful, and we had a discussion on this. The history of sled dogs was attended by one handler who thought it was extremely interesting.”The topics continued to draw crowds, including a look at the strategies of mid-distance mushers Cim Smyth and Alan Moore, and how they train and race differently in the shorter faster races compared to the long longer events. This session was interesting to the crowd, but perhaps more-so to Smyth and Moore, who grilled each other on their techniques and discovered that very different methods can yield a very similar result—a win!Harris and Ginger Dunlap presented the keynote address on their studies of selective breeding to create the perfect sled dog. Their knowledge of genetics and their access to some of the best kennels in North America and Europe gave the audience a behind the scenes look at how the Alaska husky and Eurohounds were formed and developed. The Fairbanks Junior Dog Mushers Association hosted a session with Lance Mackey’s son, Cain Carter on how to become a successful junior musher, and a “how-to” session on clipping nails, fitting harnesses and giving immunization injections. On Saturday night it was auction time with the best auction line-up the symposium has seen, and with guest auctioneer Merv Hilpipre. With around 500 items up for sale, everyone found a bargain, or that special something they needed and traditionally wait till the symposium to purchase such as iron-rope lines, a sled ride with Lance Mackey, 2 tickets wherever Frontier Airlines flies, Valdez cruises, top racing dog food like Red Paw and Annamaet, Steger Mukluks, a Laughing Husky sled, home accessories such as computer screens, extension cords and much more. I believe I saw Hans Gatt walk out with three extension cords, he must have big plans in the works. The famous Kaynor cookies were given a run for their money with a whole table of desserts which were hotly contended: cookies, pies and cakes went for around $20 – $30 each. Sunday provided a venue for some of the biggest names in sprint racing to get together and talk about old times. The stage was packed with names like George Attla, Roxy Wright, Harris Dunlap, Merv Hilpipre, Marvin Kokrine, and Joee Redington. On hand to make sure the mushers behaved was ONAC race marshal – Mike McCowan.Yukon Quest rookies had their chance to speak to veterans at the annual rookie meeting. Mike Ellis was on hand for this talk, “I had a great time talking with Brent Sass and Becca Moore, and a room full of Quest rookies. Rookies are the future of any race and I’m hoping Quest will have a strong future.“ The Symposium was a great success, and even with numbers slightly down from previous years, the Alaska Dog Mushers Association still raised $9000 in their auction which will go towards their 2009/10 racing season costs. The Symposium is a volunteer event led by ADMA board member Ami Gjestson. Without volunteers the event would not have happened, and Ami would like to thank everyone who attended the event, and those who took the time to volunteer.The ADMA Sled Dog Symposium is an annual event held during October in Fairbanks. For more information, please visit sleddog.org.Amanda Byrd is a sprint musher living with her 16 dogs in Fairbanks, Alaska. Amanda works for the Alaska Center for Energy and Power and Goldstream Sports.
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