There are the big dog mushing races run in the North — the Yukon Quest, the Iditarod, the Canadian Championship Dog Derby — and then there's the Under Dog 100 sled dog race.
Little known outside dog-mushing circles, the Under Dog is a 160-kilometre (100-miles) race that's billed as the longest endurance race in the N.W.T. With mushers only allowed seven dogs, it's tailored to give smaller kennels a fighting chance to win.
"A lot of people around here have kennels that are just 10 to 12 dogs and they're training them every day, so they have a solid group of seven," said race organizer Coady Lee.
"Big kennels have up to 200 dogs, so to break that down to seven dogs it kind of evens the playing field for what's known as the 'underdog' mushers — the smaller kennels."
The seventh annual Under Dog will start just off Highway 3, about 20 kilometres out of Yellowknife. Mushers will guide their teams down a trail to frozen Great Slave Lake, where most of the 160 kilometres are run.
The race is set up to reflect the mushing traditions of independence and self-reliance. Teams start with seven dogs and must finish with the same seven.
"If you have to drop [a] dog for whatever reason you have to carry them in your sled to the finish line," explained Lee.
"You can't hand them off at a checkpoint like every other race. So that means you drop a 50 pound dog, you have an extra 50 pounds in your sled and one less dog pulling you."
Mushers must carry everything they need for the entire race, from food for themselves and their dogs, to the straw the dogs will lay on when resting on the ice.
The Under Dog 100 is limited to 15 teams this year and the roster filled up within two weeks of opening. The racers were attracted by the even playing field of the seven-dog endurance format and the first prize of $5,000. Lee is hoping to find more sponsors to ensure none of the competitors go home empty handed.
Fifteen teams from Yellowknife, Yukon, Alberta and B.C. while be at the starting line when the race begins on April 6.