EXCELSIOR — As the Lake Minnetonka Klondike Dog Derby got underway on Sunday, Feb. 9, downtown Excelsior took on the appearance of a snowglobe. Flakes continued to fall as the 29 eight-dog teams started the 40-mile race around the lake.
Excelsior Mayor Todd Carlson referred to it as a “picture-perfect postcard of a day,” in his comments at the start of the race.
Crowds lined Water Street to watch the race, from the starting gate at Third Street, down to the port, stretching hundreds of yards onto Lake Minnetonka. Seeing “thousands of smiling faces” in downtown Excelsior every time a sled dog team sped by was one of the best parts of the day, event spokesperson Dale Kurschner told Lakeshore Weekly News.
“At one point the crowd was asked to cheer and raise hands if this was the first sled dog race they’d seen. Nearly all of them did, and that was what this was all about: bringing such an incredible sport from the north woods to a historic downtown setting where people in a major metropolitan area could witness — and learn about it,” Kurschner said.
Of the 29 sled dog teams, which included this year’s Beargrease champion and six Iditarod veterans, Dave Hochman of Carlowrie, Manitoba, won $7,000 after taking first in the race with a time of 2 hours, 41 minutes and 52 seconds.
Besides the mushers and their teams, there were other modes of transportation, and spectators could be spotted with snowshoes, fat-tire bikes and cross-country skis. Kurschner noted people also took advantage of the free shuttle service to downtown Excelsior.
The Lake Minnetonka Klondike Dog Derby is named after a dog derby held in the area in 1937, when kids hooked up their dogs to sleds and raced them on Excelsior’s College Lake during the city’s Klondike Day winter festival, organizers said.
This year’s race was the first 40-mile sled dog race on Lake Minnetonka and the first professional sled dog race to occur within a top 20 metropolitan area in the United States — but it won’t be the last. Kurschner said there “will be a Lake Minnetonka Klondike Dog Derby next year,” adding “we’ll be working on setting a date within the next couple of weeks.”
Mark Olson contributed to this report.