One of the main reasons for my lack of success at this year’s Tustumena 200 sled dog race was that my sled was the biggest and heaviest sled in the field. So much so, one of my musher friends came up and said, “Are you going to run THAT in the race?”
When he said that I knew I was in trouble!
So a couple of days after the race I hooked up with a great family business, Sled Dog Systems here in Willow. We had met earlier this summer about their sleds when they were up in Alaska looking for property to make the “big jump” in moving from the Midwest to Alaska.
Kim, Dan, and their boys make some of the most innovative sleds in the world. One of their top clients is Iditarod Champion, Jeff King. If you know anything about King he is the unequivocal “King” of innovation on the trail. If my memory serves me correctly he was the first person to use the “shorty” harnesses that many use today as well as the “trail-dragger sled” that is seen here and that many of the top teams use today in long-distance mushing.
The sled I got is a prototype of the K-5 line and it is the lightest, most maneuverable sled I have ever owned.
I have never driven a trail dragger sled and it does have a bit of a learning curve to it. I am used to pedaling from the rear of the sled. This design makes that nearly impossible.
Let’s talk about some of its features:
1. The sled is built on standard eight-foot aluminum OCR runners. You can fold down the sled to make shipment a breeze. The story goes that Jeff King checked one of these sleds as baggage on an airplane to Nome!
2. The front bag is very innovative. It looks like something you would see on a sprint sled (Sled Dog Systems makes them too). It was a wrap-around design covering the brush bow. The sled does not have a traditional bed made of plastic and the bag “floats”. I placed a 1/4-inch piece of painted plywood in mine to give it some rigidity. The bag is attached near the driving bow in a way to remain stationary during turns. The eliminates gear shift in the bag. The bag has a mesh panel in case you need to carry a dog.
3. The driving bow has two placements, similar to what you would see on a sprint sled. This allows for greater efficiency in pedaling. The driving bow is also adjustable.
4. On the driving bow is a piece of plastic where your snow hooks rest and they can be attached with a bungee. This is another innovation often seen on sprint sleds.
5. The drag mat can be folded up out of the way when not in use. It is of ample size, covering most of the area between the front of the sled and the rear.
6. The braking system is very innovative. It is small but packs a big punch and grips the trail with its sharp teeth. It is attached to the bridle.
7. The cooler “seat” and the rear of the sled are the newest to me. I have been driving traditional stand-up sleds for my whole career. The cooler “seat” is a medium-sized marine-grade cooler that is attached to the sled by a couple of bungees. I tested the seat out on several trail conditions (a lake, a winding trail, and an open rolling trail) and it proved to be remarkable in its handling. I never knew that mushing could be so comfortable! With a slight lean and a a small adjustment to the driving bow with your hands the sled maneuvers very well from a seated position.
8. The cooker compartment is located behind the cooler “seat” and makes a great place to store extra gear along with the cooker to provide equal weight distribution along the entire sled. The bed of the cooker compartment has holes in the plastic to help eliminate ice and snow.
9. The trail dragger portion of the sled can be removed for normal/shorter training runs when the extra gear is not needed.
10. The folks at Sled Dog Systems sewed the bag for me to match our team colors of black and red. They added a checkerboard pattern as well. I don’t know how well that will be perceived at the starting line, but all in good fun!
I am looking forward to running with this sled in the coming weeks and maybe a race or two later in the season. I will give a full report at that time. All in all, it looks like a fun and innovative project that I am sure to love!