Krista Halsnes spends a few moments enjoying her dogs as she loads them up Thursday to travel to Jackson, Wyo., for the International Pedigree Stage Stop Sled Dog Race. The 8-stage event started Friday in Wyoming and continues today with a 76-mile section. The race runs through Saturday and ends in Park City, Utah.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Krista Halsnes spends a few moments enjoying her dogs as she loads them up Thursday to travel to Jackson, Wyo., for the International Pedigree Stage Stop Sled Dog Race. The 8-stage event started Friday in Wyoming and continues today with a 76-mile section. The race runs through Saturday and ends in Park City, Utah.

Steamboat Springs teen races in Wyoming dog sled event

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Krista Halsnes offers up a snack to one of the Alaskan malamutes that make up the 16-dog team for the week's Pedigree Stage Stop Sled Dog Race.

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Krista Halsnes' team is comprised of the three-year-old descendents of Oak and Ziggy, a pair of Alaskan huskies the Halsnes family bought several years ago. Oak and Ziggy still lead the squad.

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Krista Halsnes, a Steamboat Springs High School student, stands with her father, Jarle, as they prepare to leave for a nine-day, eight-stage dog sled race in Wyoming. They took along a puppy, Carrot, to help him learn to socialize with the other 16 dogs on the team.

On the 'Net

The nine-day, eight-stage International Pedigree Stage Stop Sled Dog Race began Friday with a three-mile trip through Jackson Hole, Wyo. The race wraps up Saturday in Park City.

Follow Steamboat Springs High School student Krista Halsnes' process online.

— Everything around Krista Halsnes seemed a contradiction as she made the final preparations for the most important dog sled race of her young life.

She worked furiously Thursday morning, loading the furry, wet-nosed members of her team into their separate travel compartments. For every dog the 15-year-old Steamboat Springs High School student hoisted high into a hay-lined bed, a dozen seemed to be nipping at her toes. They were everywhere, swarming around her legs in the dim light of a horse trailer converted to carry dogs.

At the same time, she paused for a moment with nearly each of the 16 dogs offering a hug and a snuggle and bringing a strange stillness to a loading process that moments before seemed as sedate as a Kansas tornado.

Things have been tornadic ever since Halsnes returned from her most recent race, the four-day, 125-mile San Juan Stage Race near Durango. She won, but there was no time to celebrate. She immediately had to start preparing for the next competition.

Halsnes left Thursday with her father, Jarle, to compete in the International Pedigree Stage Stop Sled Dog Race, a massive nine-day affair. The race got under way in Jackson, Wyo., on Friday and continues until Saturday. It takes competitors through the mountains from Wyoming to Park City, Utah.

After a whirlwind stop at the high school to turn in old assignments and pick up new ones, Krista and her father pulled out of their driveway - dogs, sleds and supplies in tow - three days after returning from Durango.

"Hey, it's dog sled season," Jarle said, explaining away his daughter's missed classes with a smile.

Longer is better

It's dog sled season, and this is the ultimate dog sled race, at least in terms of what Krista can sign up for. She's still three years shy of the Iditarod's 18-year-old age limit.

"I'm the youngest one by 10 or 15 years," she said about this week's race.

The race will mark a new high for Krista, who first picked up the sport six years ago.

She worked her way Thursday through a school girl's dream, dishing out treats to the nearly two dozen fluff-covered dogs that make up her current team and hopefully future ones.

Her squad of 16 dogs is the product of years of work. Many on her team are 3 1/2 years old, the prime age for sleds dogs that often enjoy 10-year careers. The entire team was bred from Ziggy and Oak, a pair of castoff Alaskan huskies the Halsneses bought from other local racers.

"We had 18 puppies in two litters. They are the foundation of our team," Krista said. "They are extremely good dogs. Bred from two nobodies, they became great dogs."

Krista will need all the help she can get in what will be the most difficult race of her short career.

She started off by racing short, one-day sprint events, then upped the ante last weekend when she won the San Juan Stage Race. The eight-stage International Pedigree Stage Stop race features daunting tracks through mountains. A 76-mile section awaits racers today, and stages of 64, 63 and 54 miles still lie ahead.

"I'm very nervous," said Jarle, who finished ninth and 11th in his two attempts at the race. "The distances are long, and there is a lot of technical trail. If she has a wreck and gets hurt, she needs to crawl into her sleeping bag and stay there until someone comes."

The field includes some of the best mushers in the world. There are several teams from Canada and even one from Scotland. Several of the racers are Iditarod veterans, and Jeff King has won that race four times.

"It's the biggest race in the lower 48," Jarle said. "People come from all over to race. It's a big race, big prize money."

Race for the top

Despite the formidable competition, Krista remained confident.

She was 17th after the first stage, less than three minutes back after the event-opening 3-mile jaunt through Jackson.

There's more than enough time to make up that difference, and the hope is that a rested team can pull the lightweight teenager to the top of the rankings.

Each racer is allowed to have 16 dogs, but only 12 can pull in a stage.

"She's going to run a smaller team," Jarle said. "If she runs eight dogs every day, she'll always have fresh dogs every day."

They'll pull a featherweight sled Jarle built himself.

"She'll have the best equipment out there," he said.

The team still is led by Oak and Ziggy, dogs familiar with the trail and uniquely comfortable working for Krista.

It all amounts to just enough to assuage Jarle's nerves.

"She has been mushing for years and is a good sled driver," he said. "She is now ready to do the big races."

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