Bringing Mushing to the Masses

Flathead Classic dog sledding event in Olney to be held on Feb. 23-24

By Justin Franz
Beacon file photo

Brett Svetlik didn’t grow up dog sledding. After college, he moved to Colorado with some friends and was looking for work when he stumbled upon a job at a dog sledding tour company. It paid the bills, so he took it. Little did he know, it would quickly become a lifelong passion.

“I started by picking up dog poop in the kennels, but I quickly fell in love working with the dogs,” he said.

Not long after, Svetlik was leading dog sled tours and he’s remained involved in the sport ever since. Now, he’s helping organize the upcoming Flathead Classic, which takes place at the Dog Creek Lodge in Olney on Feb. 23-24.

Svetlik has been president of the local dog sledding group that has put on the Flathead Classic since 2014. The Flathead Classic is an offshoot of a previous event called the Flathead Sled Dog Days. In years past, the Classic has featured longer endurance races that cover upwards of 25 miles, but this year organizers are dialing it back for two reasons, Svetlik said. For one, running shorter races will give the organization time to prepare for even longer races in the future. Secondly, shorter races mean spectators will have more opportunities to view the sled teams.

“It will be a great opportunity for the public to experience dog sledding and really see what these animals can do,” he said.

The event will feature a number of different races, including four- and six-dog team races. Dogs will also compete in skijoring and bikejoring races (where dogs pull people on skis or on a bike). All races begin and end at the Dog Creek Lodge.

Among the competitors will be Sara Parr of Whitefish. Dogsledding is an “adoptive” passion that she got from her husband, Butch. The couple started with six dogs, and now they have about two dozen (plus a few indoor dogs). Parr said she loves the sport because of the opportunity to get outside plus the bond she builds with the animals.

“It really is a 24/7/365 sport,” she said. “You don’t just get to put the dogs away at the end of the season, and because of that, you really build a bond with them.”

Svetlik said the Flathead Classic will also feature food and drink vendors, making it a great event for the whole family. Festivities kick off at 9 a.m. each day, with races on both Saturday and Sunday. An awards ceremony will be held on Sunday at 1 p.m.

For more information, visit www.flatheadclassic.com.

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