Ten rookies will attempt to make their mark on the Yukon Quest 1,000 Mile Sled Dog Race this year, and Ryne Olson hopes to be at the front of that pack.
Seen by many as a rising star in the mushing community, Olson finished third in this year’s Copper Basin 300, behind Allen Moore and Ray Redington Jr. One of three women running this year’s Yukon Quest, she’s got a young dog team, but the confidence to turn in a strong rookie performance.
“It’s been an exciting season,” said Olson. “I have a really young team. They were yearlings last year – their first race was the YQ300 last year. It’s been really fun to see the transition. This year, they’re a lot more mature. They’re still young, but now they know what’s going on.”
“Last year, a 35-40 mile run was really big. This year, it’s a standard run for them. I’m feeling pretty confident with the dogs.”
Olson got her start in dog mushing handling for Moore and Aliy Zirkle, moving from Colorado to join the team at SP Kennel. Soon after, Olson started her own kennel, but not before learning some key lessons from Moore and Zirkle along the way.
“One of the reasons I contacted them, was I think I have a very similar philosophy. Their ability to keep dogs happy and train to their dogs’ strengths is pretty amazing.”
Olson points to SP Kennel’s dog Waylon as an example.
“He’s a tiny, 40-50 pound male, with big ears. Any other musher would think he looks like a whippet, doesn’t even look like a sled dog. But he’s turned into an amazing sled dog. They really give the dogs a chance. They’re amazing trainers. That’s something I hope to learn.”
Moore says Olson is already well on her way to mastering the craft.
“She handled for us for two years, she’s doing everything just like we do it. It’s turned out to be working really well for her.”
He adds while there is a strong field of experienced mushers starting this year’s Yukon Quest, Olson is definitely one rookie to keep an eye on.
“She’s run the YQ300 on both ends, so she’s seen both ends of the race, just not the middle of it. So she’s got more experience than some might think. She’s a hard-nosed girl. She’ll be a force to be reckoned with in the future.”
Olson is excited to see how she’ll match up with some of the best long-distance mushers in the sport.
“There are a lot of great mushers in this year’s race. Joar (Ulsom) is one to watch for sure. One of his leaders is related to Allen and Aliy’s dogs. Jeff (King), Ray (Redington Jr.), and Matt Hall is coming back from a third-place finish last year. He lives down the road from me, so I’m cheering for him.”
Olson says it’s great to see an increase in mushers for this year’s Yukon Quest, and she’s hopeful the renewed interest from veteran and rookie mushers alike will continue in the years to come. This is just the start of her own mushing career.
Since she’s seen both ends of the trail, which part of her first Yukon Quest is she most excited to conquer?
“That’s a good question. I’ll let you know after the race!” she laughed. “Each part will bring something new and exciting.”