The Femund race is an annual long-distance dog sled race. The race starts in the historical mining town of Røros, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Jon Anders Kokkvoll is CEO.
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Jon Jarle Sæther
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From the bottom of Kjerkgata in beautiful Røros, Norway 150–200 dog teams start a spectacular journey. Passing the iconic Røros Church, breaking hard right and crossing the historic Malmplassen before they disappear into the magnificent nature of the Norwegian mountain region surrounding the Unesco World Heritage Site.
Before returning to Røros the teams will pass through eight districts in the counties of Sør-Trøndelag and Hedmark. Hundreds of miles of everything winter in these parts can throw at them.
The Femundløpet is extremely challenging and mushers and dogs are faced with all the elements nature in this mountain region provides: Temperatures as low as -40°C, snowstorms and whiteouts in difficult terrain are just some of the things that add to the challenge of this race.
Mushers have to spend many hours standing behind the sled across plains, then suddenly hard physical work to help the dogs up step hills is required. There are technically challenging parts, where the race goes through forest terrain, snow blown mountain passes and interminably long lakes. Not to mention sleep deprivation.
In short – Femundløpet is tough!
Along the trails there are several checkpoints where teams can refuel and rest. The checkpoints provide food and sleeping areas for the teams. In addition veterinarians are on sight to check the dogs and provide advice where needed.
All checkpoints also provide food, speaker service various activities and cultural entertainment for the public.
Handlers are the mushers support crew during the race. However, the assistance a handler may provide is limited. The handler may deposit bags of dog food and extra equipment at designated depot areas.
Handlers are however not allowed to help the musher with the care or feeding of the dogs, this is the responsibility of the musher. The handler may watch over the team when the musher is sleeping and inform or wake the musher if there are any issues. The handler is required to take care of any dogs the musher decides to drop. In this case, the role of the handler is to ensure that the dog recovers its health as quickly as possible and to liaise with the musher and veterinarian about any follow-up treatment required.
More than anything however, the handler provides moral support and encouragement.
The race rules aim to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the team. For all classes there are mandatory rest stops at certain checkpoints. The start time differential is added on at the first mandatory stop. In addition to the mandatory rest stops the teams take additional rest somewhere along the trail. How many rest stops and how long these should be, is up to the musher and his race strategy.
There is also mandatory equipment that all mushers have to carry in their sleds at all times. The equipment includes extra food for the dogs and the musher, a cooker to heat water, outdoor survival equipment, booties for the dogs, first aid equipment, sleeping bag, windbag, maps and compass – just to mention a few. A musher must be equipped to take care of himself and his dogs for at least 24 hours and in the event of bad weather obliging teams to camp out.
A team of professional and experienced veterinarians provide vet care during the race. Every veterinarian has to be specially qualified in order to work as a volunteer at the race.
The veterinarians are posted at the start, all the checkpoints and finish line. The vets perform routine checks at every checkpoint. The medical test includes listening to the heart and lungs, checking for signs of dehydration and watching for any signs of lameness. All mushers carry a veterinary booklet in their sled, which contains the name and chip number of every dog and empty spaces for the veterinarians to make notes.
If there are any issues of concern or injuries the vet will note these in the booklet, so that the next vet at the next checkpoint can follow up and check that specific issue on that specific dog.
The veterinarian’s goal is to check every dog at every mandatory checkpoint and any checkpoint a musher rests at. Throughout the race, every dog is examined at least twice.
The rules allow for veterinarians to take a dog or a whole team out of the race if they deem that the animal is unfit to continue. There has however rarely been need for this rule to be enforced, as the vets and mushers have a dialog of mutual respect and both make their decisions in the sole interest of the dogs’ health and welfare.
The atmosphere at the starting line in Røros, where thousands of barking dogs, lurch forward in their harness and strain to go just says it all. These dogs are highly trained athletes and just love what they do. This is what they are bred and born to do. A husky that does not get the required activity can be destructive, but an active and well trained dog is a harmonious and great best friend.
It was in 1989, during a training trip, by a huge bonfire at the shore of the Femunden lake, that the idea of a long distance sleddog race in this region was born. On the training trip were Torgeir Øren, Stein Håvard Fjestad and Odd Kjøsnes. They all were immediately enthusiastic about the idea and started planning – and they wanted the race to take place the following winter.
The mushing community in the Røros region back then mainly consisted of two kennels, each of which had 14-16 dogs. They got in touch with a natural partner at Østre Æra outside Røros, where musher Anton Trøen and the owner of the local camping were very interested in cooperating on this.
Anton, together with Torgeir and Odd, became a vital person in realizing what was named ‘the Femund Race’ at the first constitutive meeting.
It was also decided to organize the race in a form that would allow it to take place independent of financing and sponsors. And the race was to take place at any cost.
The plans were presented to Røros Dog Club, which took on itself the task of organizing checkpoint Røros during the 1990 Femund Race. Later the Røros Dog Club was the formal organizer of race until the club Femundløpets Venner (Friends of the Femund Race) was founded in 2001.
The first race had 41 starters, some in the 8-Dog Team Class and some in Open Class. The first check point was Sølenstua, the second was Haugen Gård at Lake Femunden and the third check point and point of return was Røros.
The very first race was in fact stopped half way through, at Røros, due to extremely mild weather and too much surface water on the lake. Interrupting the race was a decision based on a vote among the mushers after a lengthy and heated discussion.
It provided a steep learning curve for those who thought the Femund Race was there to stay! But, history shows that time was right for introducing a long distance sled dog race in southern Norway.
In 2009 the 20th Femund Race took place and in 2011 the first long distance World Championship was organised by the Femundløpets Venner (Friends of the Femund Race).
The Femund Race has existed for over 30 years. In November 2010 Femundløpet was made into a shareholder company in order to face new challenges and to strengthen the foundations this volunteer based organisation built-up over the years. The race now has two fulltime employees to ensure the good organisation of the race.
In addition the race relies on over 700 volunteers who work many hours around the clock before and after the race.
Jobs required are: organising checkpoints, running teams up to the starting line, ensuring safe road crossings, cooking for a bunch of hungry mushers, handlers and volunteers as well as computer programming.
All the communities in the region are involved in this race and it’s thanks to the huge volunteer effort that this event is made possible.
The races current organiser wishes to thank these visionary mushers, who whilst sitting around a campfire planted the seed of adventure of what has become, now 25 years later, a fantastic race.