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Lisbet Norris and the only all Siberian husky team in Iditarod 50

Published: Mar. 13, 2022 at 4:44 PM AKDT
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MCGRATH, Alaska (KTUU) - Veteran Iditarod musher Lisbet Norris was scheduled to leave the McGrath checkpoint following her required 24 hour layover at 11:33 a.m. Friday morning. However, by noon, she was still at the checkpoint, and she was more than okay with that.

McGrath Elementary students stopped by the checkpoint Friday afternoon in hopes of seeing sled dogs, and they were successful. While there were five teams lined up and laid out on straw, their eyes went directly towards Norris’ all-Siberian husky team.

The three-time Iditarod finisher spent time answering questions, taking pictures and allowing the the students to pet the more social members of the team — all while she and her team were gearing up for the remaining 700 miles of Iditarod trail.

“It is okay to take an extra 10 minutes to connect with the future of the sport,” Norris said.

Alaskan huskies currently dominate the sport of long distance mushing, but it is Siberian huskies that paved the way and showcased the animal’s adaptability, resiliency, versatility and ability to cover miles of unforgiving terrain. The breed made its way to Alaska during the 1900s Gold Rush as working sled dogs and were featured as race dogs in first All Alaska Sweepstakes in 1908.

“As far as I am concerned, they are the perfect dog for Arctic travel,” Norris said. “They are efficient, they are tough, they have good coats, they have good feet and they are just amazing, happy traveling companions.”

The 33-year-old Norris is a third generation musher of Siberian Huskies, with her grandparents starting Alaskan Kennels in the 1940′s. That kennel has fielded an Iditarod team each decade, though not necessarily to win “The Last Great Race.”

“We have a real passion for the breed and participating in racing is a way to benchmark the breed and to celebrate their heritage and history as working dogs,” Norris said, who now operates the Fairbanks branch of Alaskan Kennels and Arctic Dog Adventure Co. “To my family, it’s really important to maintain the the workability of the Siberian husky. They are beautiful, but we don’t breed them because they’re pretty. They’re gorgeous in the same way that an arctic fox or a wolf is just beautiful, whatever the environment has just made them such,”

Norris spoke with adoration about the dogs while putting booties on their feet and petting the snout of one dog.

“The things that we find really attractive, like their beautiful almond eyes is an adaptation to protect their eyes from wind.”

Norris’ parents JP Norris and Kari Skogen currently compete in 25-mile long sprint mushing races with Siberian huskies, showcasing the breed’s versatility.

“Slide here has run Fur Rondy, an Open Class sprint race, so he is a Rondy lead dog, and now he is running Iditarod. There is not a lot of dogs that are so versatile.”

All-Siberian husky teams do not typically have success in Iditarod in terms of high placements, and have even developed the nickname ‘Slow-berians’ within the sport, but the breed does have success in traveling long distances to Nome. She has competed in the Iditarod there times, participating in the race each year from 2014-2016.

“I think one thing about Siberians is that I think they are constantly underestimated as sled dogs. My guys, we are running in the back of the pack, I have never set out to be competitive, like just finishing is big deal for me,” Norris said.

Norris and her 12 remaining dogs are on the trail to Nome, just like full-blood Siberian huskies Balto and Togo did in the 1925 serum run.

“A poor performance is more of a reflection of lack of training and preparation on my part, not because of the breed of the dog,” Norris said. “A lot of times the people who have Siberian huskies like we run to celebrate the history of the breed and what these dogs are meant for. There are so very few people running Siberians, there’s only a couple of hundred in the whole state and thousands and thousands and thousands of Alaskan’s (huskies), so we work with what we have, I love what we have, but we have but we have a smaller pool of dogs.”

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