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Dogs take off from the starting line at Northome School for the 8-Dog Pro Class in the Voyageurs Classic Sled Dog Race on Saturday morning. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)

Dogs days of winter; Temperatures just right for Voyageurs Classic

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NORTHOME -- The parking lot at the Northome School was a noisy place to be Saturday morning as the barks and whines of about 300 anxious dogs filled the air.

Mushers and their dog handlers traveled from all over Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and even Ontario, Canada to compete in the Voyageurs Classic Sled Dog Race, which actually consists of two separate races.

Fans put on their bomber hats and showed up early Saturday so they could walk through where dogs and their handlers were prepping for the races. Volunteer veterinarians also made their rounds, checking dogs to make sure they were healthy enough to compete.

The 8-Dog Pro Class started the day off at 10 a.m. with 17 teams running a total of 70 miles. Following that, the Trophy Class, consisting of 19 teams, was given the go for their 22 mile race. Each dog sled team was sent out in two-minute intervals.

The Pro Class would travel from the Northome School to Barney’s Resort in Spring Lake, Minn. for a mandatory two-hour rest and then return to the school. The Trophy Class would run would south, ending in Squaw Lake, Minn.

When the races started, fans sunk into the snow on both sides of the starting area to cheer on mushers and their dogs. A few hardy spectators even brought lawn chairs to set up in the 20 degree weather.

Competing in the Pro Class were three generations of Nelsons: Elizabeth Nelson, her father, Erik Nelson and her grandmother, Jamie Nelson, who travelled to Northome from Togo, Minn.

The Voyageurs Classic was Elizabeth’s first race and her father’s first race in 20 years. Her grandmother, however, isn’t new to the sled dog scene. Jamie raced the Iditarod in 1989 and has also ran five successful Beargrease races near Duluth, which is where her Elizabeth will be racing Jan. 25.

The Northome-Kelliher boys basketball team served breakfast to mushers in the morning and also helped keep dogs in line prior to the race. The girls basketball team, student council and German club also sold rolls, coffee and hot chocolate at the event.