OTHER LIVES: MARI HOE RAITTO

Salcha’s Mari Hȍe-Raitto is a household name when it comes to skijoring and sprint racing, but like any dog driver, there’s more than sled dogs in her life.When she’s not hooking up a team of young hounds in Salcha, Mari Hoe-Raitto is the owner of Raitto Kennels, a “Full Service Pet Resort” where she boards and cares for pets. In the summer, she packs up, including several of her sled dogs, and heads north, where she operates a fish camp on the Yukon River off the Dalton Highway.But that’s not all, Mari is a published author, a teacher and considered a pioneer in the Alaska skijor community. She has raced in many different sprint classes and began racing in Norway in 1973 when she was 14. She raced Nordic-style pulk events and after high school came to Alaska to learn more about sled dogs.“I wanted to experience it here, in Alaska, and just ended up staying,” Hoe-Raitto said from Salcha.Her first winter in Alaska, she handled for the legendary Earl Norris, who ran Anadyr Siberian Huskies. She attended the University of Alaska Anchorage where she cross-country skied for the university teams, and then UA Fairbanks. But the call of the sled dogs drew her back and after achieving her teaching degree, she returned to mushing.She started racing in the three-dog and then five-dog events at ADMA races in Fairbanks, finishing well in all competitions, she said. It was around then that people started to notice her skiing with a harnessed dog attached to her waist. Locals until then had put sled dogs and cross-country skiing together, but most were using a snowhook attached to the dog’s harness as a tow bar, instead of being hooked in at the waist. Seeing the young Norwegian and her setup, people began to ask questions and the trend caught on. Eventually, Höe-Raitto was putting on skijor clinics and in 1991 joined forces with Carol Kaynor to write an instructional book about skijoring. Mari was also a founding member of the Alaska Skijor and Pulk Association.In 1985, she got married and moved to Salcha and that same year started the fish camp on the Yukon River. Each summer since then, she has packed up and headed to the banks of the mighty waterway to live a subsistence life in a wall tent and collect salmon for herself, her dogs, and friends and family.She learned various drying and smoking techniques while living with the Honea family in Ruby in 1982.“A big part of the Athabascan culture revolves around sled dogs and fish, and I feel like I’ve continued that. I learned how to smoke and process fish, live the lifestyle and respect their ways and culture while in Ruby,” Höe-Raitto said. “The river is just a really special place to be, not only because of the history, but because it’s a unique place and way of life.”Mari was using fish wheels until 1995 but now uses set nets and fishes for mostly king salmon.Since 1992, she has operated a full-service boarding and pet care kennel out of her Salcha home. She caters to everything from pets to sled dogs and people bring their animals in from Tok, Delta and McKinley.Each winter, she also teaches outdoor skills courses, including mushing, skiing and winter camping at Eielson Air Force Base as part of the Cabin Fever Program.“Teaching those classes is fun because I can help people understand that there are lots of things to do in the Interior even when it’s cold,” she said.Now paired up with Yukon Quest veteran Jack Berry, Höe-Raitto has 20 pointer-crosses in her kennel. She and Berry keep their dogs separate, but she said, it works out well if one of his is too small or one of her dogs is too big, they can trade off.These days, Höe-Raitto trains mostly for 10-dog and open-class races and even with all her extracurricular activities, she still finds time to pack up and move to Homer where Berry has a construction business for a few months each winter.“I love the interior but it’s nice to get out of 40 below especially with having hounds,” Mari said.Between training for races, fishing in the summer, teaching and taking care of pets, Mari would also like to write another book, but only time, which she is very limited on, will tell.

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