When reporter Blair Braverman started tweeting regularly about dog sledding about five years ago, she was surprised at how popular the posts were.
“I was shocked,” Braverman, a 33-year-old who has been mushing for 15 years, told The Post. She had originally planned for her Twitter to focus on her writing, not her dogs, but said, “People were asking about mushing, and that was all I wanted to talk about.”
The level of interest helped her garner some 125,000 Twitter followers and prompted her to write the new book “Dogs on the Trail: A Year in the Life” (Ecco) with her husband Quince Mountain. This beautiful and revealing book offers a glimpse into a little-known world.
“Sport is mysterious,” writes Braverman, 33, in the book’s introduction. “The mushers live in some of the coldest and most remote places in the world. They have no neighbors; they spend more time with dogs than with people, and they like it.
Originally from California, she spent time in Norway as a child. At the age of 18, she returned to the Norwegian Arctic to attend a non-university boarding school where she focused on dog sledding, an experience she recounted in her 2016 memoir “Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube: Chasing Fear and Finding Home in the Grand Nord Blanc. Soon she became addicted.
In 2019, Braverman competed in the Iditarod, the famous dog sled race from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska. She and 14 of her dogs covered approximately 1,000 miles in 13 days and nine hours, encountering dangerous slopes, dangerous ice and various other hazards along the way.
“It was just me and my dogs and very intense terrain. The obstacles kept coming, ”she said of the experience. “But my dogs took care of me.”
She and Mountain, 32, met at a college in Iowa and now split their time between Alaska and northern Wisconsin. In their book, they dispel many myths about the sport, including several about dogs themselves. While many people imagine Siberian huskies when they think of sled dogs, Braverman and Mountain breed Alaskan huskies, which are not an official breed and do not have a distinct appearance.
“Because they were bred for performance, not looks, Alaskans can have floppy or pointy ears, blue or brown eyes, and heights ranging from thirty to seventy pounds. They can be solid, multi-colored, speckled, or have striking masks, ”the couple wrote.
Sometimes Braverman and Mountain accentuate their dogs’ appearance with mascara – not to make them look pretty, but to help reduce glare from the sun. They’ll use a simple waterproof mascara, like Maybelline, on lighter colored dogs as they walk over the Arctic Circle and the daylight hours are long, applying makeup to the fur around their eyes rather than on their eyelashes.
“[The dogs] you don’t mind at all and it helps protect [them] of light, much like wearing sunglasses, or how soccer players apply black to their eyes, ”Braverman said.
Sled dogs have features that make them particularly well suited for their job, such as a warm, double-layered coat and webbed legs that almost act like snowshoes. They also have a special metabolism that allows them to burn fat easily and rely less on carbohydrates than other mammals, allowing animals to run 100 miles a day, several days in a row, without getting tired.
Naturally, such feats require a lot of fuel. “They can eat over 10,000 calories a day,” Braverman told The Post. “Some of the things they eat seem pretty gross.” Venison is a staple, chicken is a favorite. “While they run” write Braverman and Mountain that they “give to each [dog] a frozen raw chicken thigh every hour or so. More exotic dishes in their diet include beaver, bear fat, and steamed bone meal for calcium.
Braverman and Mountain don’t start training their dogs until they’re at least one year old and their bodies have had time to develop. When it comes time to start a yearling, “teaching a young sled dog to pull is almost ridiculously easy,” they write. You just hitch them up and hang in line with the rest of the team, and “in about five steps they’ve got it.” Dogs generally retire between the ages of 7 and 11.
Although winter is, of course, the main season for tobogganing, training and physical preparation takes place all year round. In the summer the dogs have time to relax and recuperate, and the puppies are born and often raised. Once temperatures drop below 50 degrees in the fall, it is cool enough for training but generally no snow, so Braverman and Mountain will have a team of dogs that will pull them on a bike, cart or mountain bike in the area. instead of a sled.
It’s a lot of work, but for Braverman, it’s worth it.
“The depth of trust you develop with these dogs is incredible,” she said. “You can be with the dogs you love when they are doing something they love. And it’s completely addicting.