In the high country of eastern Idaho just west of the Teton mountains lies a little town full of snow. Ashton was founded and built in 1906 because of the Union Pacific railroad. The rails were closed due to heavy snowfall during winter and weren’t plowed until spring, so Ashton became the winter rail terminus for the entire region. Mushing – a sled and rider pulled by a team of dogs - became a serious business as it was the only way mail, people, and supplies could be delivered throughout winter.
Mushing is a thrilling sport. The musher, or person who rides the sled, calls out commands to the Lead Dog, which directs the rest of the Team Dogs; no reigns are used to guide the dogs. The number of dogs used varies upon the distance and amount of goods needing to be transported.
In March of 1917 in Ashton, the first American Dog Derby was held.
That first race was 55 miles, beginning in West Yellowstone and ending on Main Street in Ashton. Out of the 16 entrants, only 4 teams were able to get to the starting point in West Yellowstone and race. Tud Kent won the competition, and he went on to win five more dog derbies; more than any other musher.
The American Dog Derby is the oldest surviving American dog sled race. It became extremely popular internationally, due to heavy advertising by the Union Pacific, and was eventually considered the World Championship in dog sled racing.
This year is the 100-year celebration of this historic race, which will begin February 16 and finish February 18 on Main Street in Ashton. There will be six different races ranging in distance from 92 miles to 4 miles. There is even a 7.5-mile junior musher race for kids 16 years of age and younger.
John Scafe, Race Director, says his favorite part of the American Dog Derby is “being around the mushers, seeing how much they care for their animals, and watching everybody have a good time.” John is an Ashton native and has served on the committee for 25 years.
There is plenty to see and do for onlookers of this famous event, including a celebrity race, snowshoe race, and weight pull, where spectators and their dogs can compete. Don’t miss this exciting weekend full of celebration in Ashton!♦