By Joanna Bastian
The 2018-2019 winter race season is right around the corner, and Christina Gibson is ready to mush with her team of Alaskan Huskies.
After a successful run at the mid-distance Junior Iditarod sled dog race in Alaska last winter, Christina, 17, has her sights set on competing as an adult this year at the 100-mile Race to the Sky in Montana.
Aside from caring for her sled dog team, maintaining a rigorous training schedule and training other young people in the sport, the busy high school senior also owns and runs Whiteout Racing Kennel LLC.
At their home on Libby Creek, the sled dogs enjoy free run of an expansive fenced-in kennel with an obstacle course to play on, grassy areas to rest in, and a doggie pool. It’s an impressive setup, one created and maintained by their trainer and owner, Christina.
Over the last four years, Christina has been building her sled dog team to a total of 10 race dogs. Fall training for races starts out slow and gradual. “Dogs are like humans,” she says. “Fall training starts with low mileage and a slow pace, building on miles and muscles.”
Although the dogs love to run, she starts racing training with just a few miles each day, building up to longer distances by the end of the season. “We also work on listening — ‘whoa’ and ‘stop’ are not their favorite, they want to run!” Christina said.
In addition to conditioning for mid-distance races, the dogs — Robin Hood, Rubicon, Olaf, Brother, Sunny, Freckles, Steampunk, Nellie, Tatum and Toby — are trained in race day routines. “It’s important that the dogs know what to expect,” Christina explained. “The way we hook up the dogs, the order of tasks, has to be the same each time.”
In a 100-mile race at the 50-mile checkpoint there is a mandatory six-hour rest for dogs. After pulling into the checkpoint, Christina follows a routine so that the dogs know exactly what to expect. First, she has a bag full of treats which she doles out to the dogs, along with petting and encouragement. When the bag is empty, she removes all the booties from their paws and places them in the empty snack bag — the dogs will receive fresh booties for the next leg of the race.
Next, the dogs are unhooked from the tugline, but their harnesses left on. Then comes food — a high-quality kibble, chicken and broth. A vet looks the team over, and then it’s nap time until the next leg of the race.
This racing season, Christina will also participate in the Wyoming Pedigree Stage Stop, a staged race that takes place over multiple days. Her long-term goal is to compete in the long-distance Iditarod.
Ride along with Christina and her dog team on Facebook and Instagram at Whiteout Racing Kennel. The Facebook page is full of fun photos that capture the personality of each dog, videos, and team apparel available for purchase. Visit her website, WhiteoutRacingKennel.com, to learn more about the team and sponsor a dog. Last year, the team ran almost entirely with the support of local sponsors.
For a young, driven, professional with her eyes set on college and competitive sled dog racing, Christina keeps herself grounded, a lesson, she says, she learned from the dogs. “Dogs live simply and enjoy the moment,” she said. “Just be in the moment and experience life.”