On track for Iditarod dream

Peter Reuter and his team race on the first day of the Copper Basin 300 sled dog race Saturday, Jan. 14 in Alaska. (Photo courtesy of Julien Schroder)

Regardless of the sport, there probably aren’t too many people who could call a 300-mile winter excursion through part of Alaska a training run.

But that’s exactly the trek Peter Reuter tackled earlier this week while getting ready to face a much bigger endeavor later on this winter.

Reuter, who calls both Bloomingdale and Alaska home, is gearing up to race in the Iditarod in March, and part of his preparations included participating in the Copper Basin 300 sled dog race, which started last Saturday. He left the start line in Glennallen, Alaska shortly after 10 a.m. with 12 dogs, and reached the finish line in that same town late in the day on Tuesday.

Reuter wasn’t aiming to win or be extremely competitive in the Copper Basin 300, a grueling race that featured many of the top mushers in the world. That honor went to 28-year-old female Alaskan Ryne Olson, who finished a full day earlier on Monday.

Reuter’s goal was to take his time along the route to evaluate the dogs he entered as he looks to assemble a team of 16 four-legged fireballs that he will leave the Iditarod start line with when it kicks off in Anchorage on March 4.

Peter Reuter holds a pack of puppies on Alaska’s Punchbowl Glacier last summer. Reuter, who will be racing for the first time in March in the Iditarod, works during the summer for Ididaride Sled Dog Tours. (Photo courtesy of Peter Reuter)

Not only did Reuter find out the dogs he took performed as well, or even better, that he expected, he was also able to accomplish the ultimate mission that mushers have, and that’s getting the team to the finish line healthy and happy. In a race that saw nearly a third of the 38 teams drop out along the way, Reuter was able to finish with all but one of the dozen dogs he started with. He pulled Ivan, a 2-year-old, out of the race near the 90-mile mark.

“I noticed Ivan was cramping, and the one thing you don’t want to do is push your dogs, especially the younger ones,” Reuter said in a phone interview Thursday evening. “I got 11 dogs to the finish line in one of the toughest 300-mile races in the world. It was the toughest 300-mile race I’ve ever done, and I couldn’t be any happier. I’m thrilled.

“The dogs and I managed a really good race plan,” he continued. “Every time I got to a checkpoint, the dogs were on fire, and every time we left a checkpoint, you could hear the dogs barking and banging from a mile away. When we got to the finish line, their eyes were bright and their tails were wagging.”

This winter marked the second time competing in the Copper Basin for Reuter, who has also completed another handful of 200- and 300-mile sled dog races in Alaska and the Yukon.

This year the race course was altered due to a lack of snow, but on Saturday, mushers and their dogs had to deal with nearly blizzard-like conditions shortly into the race. Ultimately, the snowfall abated and the skies cleared up to reveal a winter wonderland, complete with amazing views of Alaska’s massive mountains.

Peter Reuter and his team race on the first day of the Copper Basin 300 sled dog race Saturday, Jan. 14 in Alaska. (Photo courtesy of Julien Schroder)

“Crystal clear blue skies, just spectacular,” Reuter said.

Reuter has dreamed about being an Iditarod sled dog racer since he was young. He was first introduced to the world of sled dogs as youth in Buffalo by the mother of one of his best friends, who raised huskies and took them on trips with a wheeled sled during the warmer months.

After he attended Paul Smith’s College, where he studied forestry, Reuter began raising malamutes, with his first dog being a wonderful female named Kenai, who was fittingly enough named after the peninsula in Alaska where he now lives.

Reuter began running sled dogs in Crested Butte, Colorado in 1985, and during the mid 1990s, he usually had six malamutes running around at his Adirondack home. During the past five years, he’s spent many months each year living in both the Yukon and Alaska as a dog handler. He also spent part of last winter on Mirror Lake in Lake Placid helping Vermontville’s John Houghton operate sled dogs rides.

Six weeks from today, Reuter will be realizing his nearly life-long dream when he steps to the start line as a rookie musher in the Iditarod, a 1,000-plus-mile trek from Anchorage to Nome that’s dubbed the “Last Great Race on Earth.”

He qualified for the Iditarod by completing the Copper Basin 300 two years ago, and he’s stayed tuned into the sport and trained, as well as paid the bills by conducting summer sled dog tours during the warm months on Alaska’s Punchbowl Glacier.

The cost for mushers who enter the Iditarod is enormous. Reuter said on average, the amount is around $60,000, and that pays for dogs, their care, mushers supplies, entry fees and transportation, which in Alaska and on the roadless Iditarod trail is by plane. Reuter said when all is said and done, he will be using about 1,700 pounds of food and equipment along the Iditarod Trail, with most of that being flown into the race’s various checkpoints laid out across Alaska’s interior.

Reuter, 54, said his time for owning his own kennel is long past, so he has the additional cost of leasing a team of dogs. And Reuter said he has some great, experienced dogs to chose from, and many of those have raced in multiple Iditarods. The dogs hail from the Cook Inlet Kennels owned by 1984 Iditarod champion Dean Osmar.

Reuter will take some of the dogs that he ran in the Copper Basin 300, as well as others that raced earlier this month in the Gin Gin 200, also held in Alaska. He began training with the dogs back in November and said he has racked up about 2,000 miles with them so far.

Reuter has been raising funds for the Iditarod and is still looking for help. With the help of Alan Rose, his best friend from their days at Paul Smith’s College, Reuter has created the Barkeater Race Team, and has merchandise available for purchase, including hoodies, T-shirts, baseball hats, pint glasses and coffee mugs. Those can be found at stores.creativelink1.com. He also has a gofundme account that can be reached through his public Facebook page.