Hanover Native ‘Skijoring’ in Alaska
For Chase Tingle, even a 10-degree race day is a bit too warm.
A Hanover native now living in Alaska, Tingle, 30, has been touring the woods with sled dogs — also known as skijoring — for both recreational and occupational purposes for the last six years.
This winter, the former Hanover High soccer player decided to try his hand at mushing (sled dog racing) and did quite well for himself. In early December, Tingle placed sixth in the Alpine Creek Excursions race in Denali National Park, finishing the 65-mile trek in 7 hours, 28 minutes.
A week later, the University of Maine graduate was 14th in his first 100-mile race, the Solstice 100. On a route in and around his new hometown of Two Rivers, Alaska — where he works as a handler for a race-dog training center run by Hopkinton, N.H., natives Devan and Judy Currier — Tingle finished in just 10:36.33.
Tingle’s biggest adventure to date began Feb. 1, when he set out on the Yukon Quest 300, a 300-mile voyage over arduous terrain and exposed, alpine elevation.
The route, which began in Fairbanks, trekked northeastward over nearly 3,250 feet of steep elevation gain — and equally steep descents — traversing two substantial mountains.
The course turned around in Circle City and doubled back 74 miles to the town of Central, at the base of 3,685-foot Eagle Summit.
Tingle completed the race in about 53 1/2 hours, good for second place behind only racing veteran Aliy Zirkle.
Not bad for a rookie who began competing solely because of his affinity for both canines and cold conditions.
“I’ve just always loved the cold and northern-type stuff,” Tingle said in a phone interview from Anchorage, where he’s taking in festivities surrounding the ongoing Iditarod Sled Dog Race. “I’ve always loved dogs a lot.”
Tingle got his first husky, Tucky, in 2004 and had been involved in skijoring activities in both northern New England and Alaska for the last six years. He’d been an “adventure tourism” sled dog guide in New Hampshire, Maine, and at Glacier National Park, eventually connecting with the Curriers, the Hopkinton natives who now run the Lara-Ke kennel and sled dog racing center in Two Rivers.
Tingle trains the dogs beginning in October, usually starting by having them pull an all-terrain vehicle over dry land.
“You want it to be at least 50 degrees (at the warmest), and build up their strength and fitness slowly,” Chase said. “The longer the run, the more fun it is.”
Tingle particularly enjoys Alaskan huskies, which he says are bred for racing ability over appearance.
“They’re not bred for looks, they’re bred for strength, stamina and appearance,” Tingle said. “You can have some that have blue eyes, some that have brown eyes. Some have black coats, some have brown coats. Some look like (prototypical) huskies, some might look like pit bulls. They’re all unique.”
When Tingle set out on the Yukon Quest 300, it was a “balmy” 10 degrees in Fairbanks. As elevations grew along the route, the temperatures dropped and the performance level of the animals increased.
“The temperature plays a big factor. You typically don’t want it much higher than zero,” he said. “They’re cold-weather racing dogs, so it slows them down when it gets much warmer than that.”
Tingle raced through the night Feb. 1, ascending the 3,640-foot Rosebud Mountain with the use of a head lamp and natural light from the clear Alaskan sky.
“Rosebud Mountain is a really steep climb, but I had really good dogs and they charged right up,” Tingle said. “When you get up there, you’re in real alpine tundra. You’re exposed and it’s nighttime and you’re always looking out for ice and rock. On the descent (of Rosebud), there were a lot of wet spots and overflow. By the time we got to the bottom, up to my knees were covered in ice.”
Feb. 2 was spent climbing and descending Eagle Summit, a peak with even more exposed terrain than Rosebud.
“The wind was just howling, and when you come down over the back side, it just drops straight down,” Tingle said. “It’s like a big bowl and it’s easy to have control problems. The dogs are always going full throttle, whether they’re going uphill or downhill. So you have to be able to use the break (a metal bar with a pair of metal claws) and to get the dogs to ease up (with verbal commands).”
The voyage wasn’t without attrition. Tingle began the Yukon Quest with 12 dogs, but “dropped” four of them along the way at check-point stations.
“It’s important to notice if a dog isn’t up to par, because you really have their wellbeing in mind,” Tingle said. “(Judy Currier) was my handler and was at all the check points. There are (veterinarians) at all the check points, too, in case they need attention.”
Tingle would like to one day compete in a major long-distance race such as the Iditarod — more than 1,100 miles — or the Yukon Quest 1,000, which extends from Alaska into Canada’s Yukon Territory.
This year, he’ll be leading skijoring tourism adventures in the Denali area for Husky Homestead, a company owned by four-time Iditarod champion Jeff King. Tingle is also soon to open his own kennel in Two Rivers, to be named Tuckaway in honor of his now 9-year-old fist husky.
“It’s going to be great to work with Jeff King. That should be a pretty good deal,” Tingle said. “As far as racing, we’ll see. I want to keep at it, but in small steps.”
Jared Pendak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3306.