Mighty Malo wins, but so does the sport

JACKSON, Wyo. — The worse the weather, the more Anny Malo’s dogs dig in. The defending winner of the 2019 Pedigree Stage Stop Race retained the title after an impressive run in a snowy and windy Gros Ventre Saturday.

Malo was in control of the 7-stage race from the get-go, beaten in just one of the legs by Lina Streeper who ultimately finished in 2nd overall, 13 minutes behind the winner. Malo turned in consistently fast times and showed no signs of slowing, even as the race wore on to its final seventh leg.

Streeper was with Malo every step of the way, faster in Big Piney stage but otherwise the shadow to Malo’s streaking dogsled team. The two elite Canadian mushers pulled away from the field where the real drama unfolded.

Anny Malo accepts race trophy and check for winning the 2020 Pedigree Stage Stop Race. Her second in a row. She’s joined on the podium by Lina Streeper (L) and Alix Crittenden (R), who took 2nd and 3rd place. Photo: Courtesy Wyoming Stage Stop Race

Stage Stop community

Local mushing magnate Frank Teasley set out to create a dogsled race that would appeal to a broader range of fans, but one that would also inspire competitors to bring out the best in each other, and finally, of course, highlight the canine athletes themselves.

The 2020 iteration of the event Teasley launched in 1996 was a shining example of how the race has evolved to become exactly what was envisioned.

Conditions ran the gamut from warm temps and soft snow; to cold, fast, hardpack track; to near whiteout conditions to wrap up the race at the end. And through each leg, dogs ruled. Even those that were undertrained and maybe had not seen certain conditions—they all leaned into their harnesses and pulled with all their might.

As heroic as the canine efforts were during race week, humans did a pretty fair job of rising to the occasion as well.

Rachel Courtney raced through adversity to capture 4th place. Photo: Latham Jenkins

How about Rachel Courtney? To come in 4th overall was a miracle. In fact, to finish the race at all was a testament to how the mushing community pulls together when the going gets tough.

Truck problems plagued Courtney in Lander. Fremont Motors, a sponsor of the race, worked all night to get her a fix but the turbo blew out again by the time she reached Dubois.

Now what? Race commentator Jerry Bath explained that he began making the rounds throughout the pit crews and dog handlers. Who had room for a dog or two? Who could help get Courtney to the next stage, and the next?

In the end, Chris Adkins was able to accommodate most of Courtney’s canine athletes but for Rachel, that still meant finishing the race with her dogs and her mind scattered everywhere. Courtney thanked Adkins with a memento at the awards banquet. Adkins shrugged it off as, “Nothing anybody wouldn’t have done.”

“That was something for her to finish as well as she did in that situation,” Bath said. “For her to keep her head in the game and not convey any downer thoughts to the dogs—because they pick up on every little thing like that—that was impressive.”

And how about the 2020 champion herself? With two mushers already off-course in flat light during the Kemmerer stage, futilely following a snowmobile trail that looked good at first but bogged down in deep snow, Malo saw Streeper behind her headed for the same mistake. She slowed her dogs down so Lina and her dogs would see her up ahead and know the right way.

“At that point they were still fairly close in fighting for the lead. For Anny to sacrifice some of her time to help a competitor…that’s a champion’s champion right there,” Bath said.

Maria Torgerson runs her first Pedigree Stage Stop Race after competing in the Eukanuba 8-Dog Classic last year. The 17-year-old finished 4th overall using Streeper Kennels Team B dogs. Photo: Latham Jenkins

Middle-of-the-pack stories

The runaway two-sled race left plenty of drama in its wake. Local musher Alix Crittenden is a story in her own right. The Bondurant cowgirl caught the mushing bug while working for Frank Teasley’s sled dog tours in Granite Creek. She admitted she didn’t know one end of a dog from the other.

Now, she knows them by name and heaps praises every chance she gets.

“The dogs worked so hard today and did such an awesome job. I am so proud of them,” Crittenden wrote on her Facebook page during the race when she wasn’t massaging their feet. “To name two whom I’m extremely impressed with are Ivar (2 y/o) and Juniper (4 y/o).”

At the awards banquet Saturday night, Crittenden also thanked Frank Teasley for trusting her with his best-racing dogs and letting her run her race with his kennel.

“He taught me everything I know now and got me addicted to this. And he trusted me to take his dogs and represent his kennel,” Crittenden said.

And then there’s Montana’s Maria Torgerson. The 17-year-old was overwhelmed at times after stepping up from running the 2019 Eukanuba 8-Dog Classic but a community of mushers, from fellow teams and handlers to race organizers, all helped where they could to put the daughter of mushing great Dave Torgerson into 4th place overall.

“This race, for me, was about good dogs and good people,” Torgerson said. She ran the Streeper’s B Team and handled them well for a teenager.

And how about Austin Forney. In many ways, the Leadville, Colorado native embodies the sport nowadays. The rancher-turned-musher traded horses for dogs and since his 2016 entry into the race, he keeps getting better and better every time out. Good enough for 6th this time out, up from 12th last year.

Rafael Nelson just completed his first-ever dogsled racing event. The Michigan native signed on just days before the event and managed a 10th place finish, though his flow finishes first in every race.

Doug Butler needed a GoFundMe campaign to get him to the starting line. The 65-year-old’s ragtag bunch of lovable dogs never quit him and Butler, in what has become his signature, said he was “over the moon” just to be there.

Austin Forney just keeps on getting better after trading ranch life for dog mushing. Photo: Latham Jenkins

One for the books

The 25th running of the Pedigree Stage Stop Race was certainly one of the best. Bath, who has participated in the past nine events and served as race commentator for the past three, said it was the cleanest, smoothest, most efficient race he’s seen to date.

That’s a very good thing. For the sport.

Because it is true, everyone comes to race. Each musher pays the same entry fee with the same intention of being the fastest. But in the end, mushing is about so much more than who crosses the finish line first.

It’s about testing one’s mettle against the elements. And lending a hand when you run across someone else out there in a vast frozen world and they’re lost or tired. And it’s about dogs. The love and care of dogs, and how you get back tenfold what you put into them.

2020 Stage Stop mushers at the awards banquet. Photo: Courtesy Wyoming Stage Stop
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