Olney Musher Returns to Idaho Sled Dog Challenge

Eight Montanans, including Seeley Lake's Jessie Royer, will take part in the the Idaho race, a qualifier for the Iditarod and Yukon Quest

By Micah Drew
Josi Thyr of Olney competes in the Flathead Classic sled dog race on Feb. 26, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The 5th Idaho Sled Dog Challenge (ISDC), which features 300- and 100-mile races through the central mountains of Idaho, will include a host of Montanan mushers this year, including defending champion Josi Thyr from Olney.

In 2022, Thyr won the 300-mile race in 61 hours and 52 minutes, with an average speed of just over 9 mph.

Thyr, 28, has been racing sled dogs for 17 years and began taking the sport seriously while she was in high school. She spent time in Alaska handling dogs for Aaron Burmeister, a 21-time Iditarod competitor with eight top-10 finishes. She returned home to begin training for her own Iditarod qualifiers, and eventually quit her job as an insurance agent to do sled dog tours and spend more time training with her dogs. Thyr qualified for the 2021 Iditarod but withdrew before the race.

Now, she’s aiming for the 2024 Iditarod. She will compete in the Eagle Cap Extreme 200-mile race beginning on Jan. 19 before heading to Idaho.

Idaho Sled Dog Challenge co-founder and trail coordinator Dave Looney says the Idaho race is considered one of the most grueling mushing competitions in the world due to its topography.

“Mushers will tell you this is a very, very atypical race,” Looney said in a press release announcing this year’s competition. “Our elevation change is 36,000 feet, which is greater than the Iditarod. They call it a 500-mile race packed into 300 miles. One musher said the Idaho Sled Dog Challenge is like climbing Mount Everest – twice.”

Among the other Montana competitors in the ISDC is Seeley Lake’s Jessie Royer, who won the race in 2018 and 2020 (and has three top-five Iditarod finishes), and Lincoln’s Nicole Lombardi, who won the 100-mile ISDC last year.

The ISDC is part of the Rocky Mountain Triple Crown, which includes the Eagle Cap Extreme in Oregon, and Montana’s Race to the Sky, which will be held Feb. 10-14 and takes racers from Lincoln to Condon and back.

Thyr’s dog Tide awaits the start of its race at the Flathead Classic dog sled races in Olney on Feb. 26, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon