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Perhaps the most famous dog sled race is the Iditarod, the 1,100-mile journey between Anchorage and Nome, Alaska. Teams of 12 to 16 dogs pull a racer's sled through grueling conditions, including blizzards, fog, ice, strong winds and temperatures as cold as 40 degrees below 0 Fahrenheit. It takes a team of dogs more than a week to course the Iditarod, averaging approximately 8 miles an hour.
Distance, Conditions and Speed
A sled dog's speed depends on a variety of factors, including weather, the planned travel distance and the condition of the trail. For shorter distances, sled dogs may average 10 to 14 miles per hour during the course of a day of mushing. If conditions are poor, such as extreme cold or fresh snow, the dogs' speed can drop to 6 or 7 miles per hour. In a sprint race that takes a day or two, sled dogs may reach up to 15 miles per hour.
The size of the sledding team makes a difference; however, the team will travel only as fast as its slowest member. As well, the amount of weight the team is pulling will affect its overall speed. Some racers average 10 to 12 miles per hour at the start of a race and maintain a speed of 8 to 10 miles per hour.
Sled Dog Size
Despite the heavy load they carry, sled dogs don't tend to be particularly large. They may weigh as little as 35 pounds and more than 70 pounds, though generally they range between 45 and 60 pounds. A sled team strives to have dogs of similar size and gait, so they can maintain the same speed as a team and move in a consistent, efficient fashion. In addition to the Siberian husky, the Alaskan malamute and Canadian and American Intuit dogs are popular breeds for sled dog duty. Most sled dogs are mixed-breed dogs, referred to as Alaskan huskies.
Even for a born musher, pulling sleds up to 100 miles in a day is hard work. Sled dogs require a lot of calories -- up to 12,000 calories per day. A diet consisting of meat, fish and commercial dog food, fed many times throughout the day, keeps the dogs going.