WolfTrack Classic on the way; 11th annual sled dog race slated for weekend of Feb. 23-24

by Tom Coombe -

Ely is in the midst of its annual winter celebration, but the festivities are set to continue later this month with another major event.
On the heels of the Ely Winter Festival is the 11th annual WolfTrack Classic Sled Dog Race, which is set for Sunday. Feb. 24.
Two races, an eight-dog, 50-mile event and a six-dog, 30-mile jaunt, both start and end at Ely’s softball complex on the eastern edge of town, on Old Airport Road.
More than 30 sled dog teams took part in the 2018 event and 21 are already registered this year, as of Wednesday.
The eight-dog race figures to be very competitive with defending champion Ryan Anderson of Ray, as well as John Beargrease Marathon champion Blake Freking of Finland among seven early entrants.
The six-dog race already has 14 entrants, and registration continues on the race website at www.wolftrackclassic.com.
Race day begins with vet checks around 7 a.m. with the first race set to begin at 9 a.m., with teams leaving in two-minute intervals until all mushers and dog teams are on the course.
Spectators are invited to come early to take in the howling, barking and energetic dogs as they wait to leave from the starting gate.
The dog teams will connect with the Taconite Trail, crossing Highways 1 and 21, continuing on to the Bear Head State Park Road, the Bear Head State Park Trail and then on to the Fishing Lakes Trail. The teams will eventually reconnect with the Taconite for the return jaunt to Ely, with the first teams expected to arrive back at the finish area by 1:30 p.m.
The Grand Ely Lodge will serve as race headquarters and home to an awards dinner and reception following the races. That event is open to the public.
Race organizers say a festive atmosphere fills the air on Saturday, Feb . 23 as musher trucks arrive in Ely.
The public is invited to meet the mushers at their pre-race spaghetti dinner from 4 to 6:30 p.m. that day. The spaghetti dinner is a fund raiser for the Vermilion Community College Wilderness Club and will be held in the VCC cafeteria. Tickets are available at the door and are $10 for adults and $5 for children 10 and under. The musher meeting and bib presentation follows the spaghetti dinner.
Mother Nature has interfered with the race several times in its history, most recently in 2017 when temperatures soared into the 50s on race weekend.
A more typical Ely winter, with a recent stretch of subzero weather and plenty of snow, makes it likely that this year’s race will go on as planned. The WolfTrack Classic requires hundreds of volunteers, and those interested in helping are encouraged to check out the race website at www.wolftrackclassic.com to learn more about volunteer opportunities. The race has its own page on Facebook as well.