Each year near their cabin in Grand Marais, Michigan, Northwest Side Community Development Corp. executive director Howard Snyder and his wife, Janice Wilberg, sit by a fire and watch dog teams and mushers slide past into a dark expanse of evergreen wilderness near the shore of Lake Superior.
“It’s breathtaking,” Snyder said.
The UP 200, a dog sled race that spans 250 miles from Marquette, Michigan to Grand Marais and back each February, runs near their cabin. For 20 years, the two have watched and become bigger and bigger fans of the sport.
Though most Wisconsin sports fans dream of great seats at Lambeau Field, Snyder dreams of traveling along the 1,150 mile route of the Iditarod sled dog race in Alaska to track the progress of his favorite mushers.
“It’s not for the faint of heart,” Snyder said. “Once you get into the interior, it can be very cold and snowy, and you just don’t have any way to know what the weather is going to be like. We just sort of fell in love with it.”
He and Janice have been to Alaska for the race twice — in 2014 and in 2016 — and watched the dog teams depart and return, but haven’t been able to witness the rugged struggle mushers face during most of the race.
“There’s a fan base that a lot of people in a city like Milwaukee or Chicago wouldn’t know much about,” Snyder said. “But if you’re in Alaska, it’s the state sport. It’s the Packers of Alaska. And the mushers and the mushing community are like Alaskan royalty.”