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WolfTrack weekend arrives

 Nearly 50 mushers taking part on Sunday; public invited to watch

by Tom Coombe

Organizers couldn’t have asked for a better backdrop for the 2023 running of the WolfTrack Classic.

The 15th annual sled dog event is set for Sunday, and conditions figure to be ideal with plenty of snow on the ground and comfortable February temperatures in the forecast.

“It looks like it will be a perfect day weather-wise,” said Ellen Cashman, who coordinates the event for the Ely Chamber of Commerce. “We’re just excited. There have been teams on the trail preparing, and the last six-to-eight inches have really helped. Everything is in good condition.”

As of Wednesday, 47 mushers were registered between the two races, up slightly from the 45 who took part a year ago.

Both an eight-dog, 50-mile race and a six-dog, 30-mile event take place Sunday, with the race both starting and finishing at the Ely softball complex on the eastern edge of town.

The hooks are pulled at 9 a.m., with the first of 19 eight-dog teams leaving the starting chute.

The six-dog teams follow and spectators are invited and encouraged to take in the festivities.

“We’re encouraging people to come for the start,” said Cashman. “And the mushers would be thrilled if there were people standing at the finish line when they come across.”

Three warming fires will be set up at the softball complex to offset the chill for spectators and volunteers, and thanks to Midcontinent Communications, spectators will be treated to free coffee, hot cocoa and breakfast bars.

Both races make their way through the woods on the Taconite Trail, winding back on the course and back into Ely, with the six-dog teams starting on the Taconite, turning around near Purvis Lake and back to Ely.

Cashman said the first six-dog teams should be arriving back at the softball complex around 12:30 p.m., and finishers will follow through the rest of the early afternoon.

The eight and six-dog teams will leave the starting

area in the morning in what amounts to a staggered start.

A strong lineup of mushers is expected, although there will be a new winner in the eight-dog category.

Mike Bestgen, who has guided eight-dog teams to victory the last three years, is not returning although Ashley Thaemert is back to defend her six-dog title.

Cashman said the snowstorm that is hitting much of the state this week could lead to “some weather-related scratches” in a field that includes four junior mushers “and a couple of mushers racing for the first time.”

The field includes some mushers from the Ely area as well as some coming from hundreds of miles away.

During the WolfTrack’s history, there have been times the race has been shortened or cancelled because of poor snow conditions and warm temperatures.

That won’t be the case this year, with piles of snow blanketing the area and temperatures following well below zero on recent mornings.

Teams will arrive in town Saturday for race preparation and vet checks, with the annual “Musher Dinner” on the docket this year.

The Wilderness Club at Vermilion Community College holds the dinner as a fundraiser, and all are welcome to attend. It’s an all-you-can-eat spaghetti dinner from 4 to 6 p.m., in the cafeteria at VCC. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for youth under age 10 or VCC students with an ID.

Another event is the post-race awards dinner at the Grand Ely Lodge, set for late Sunday afternoon, but that function is already at capacity

The Ely Chamber of Commerce took on sponsorship and coordination of the race in 2020, when 31 dog teams participated.

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