Behind the scenes…

HOUGHTON – The CopperDog 150 is three days of excitement, competition, fun and, of course, those lovable sled dogs. And that can be plenty for the casual dog-sled racing fan.

But some inquiring minds want more.

How is the race course planned and mapped? How are dogs kept healthy? How do timers keep track of up to 50 teams, with staggered starts, over three days of racing? How’d this whole crazy thing get started anyway?

If you’re one of those folks with the questions, and especially if you’re a teacher who wants to use the answers to teach your class about geography, biology, math, social sciences and more, then the CopperDog Winter Educator’s Conference is a day to look forward to.

CopperDog organizers will be hosting their first ever Educator’s Conference Feb. 8 at the Magnusson Hotel Franklin Square Inn in Houghton. The conference will run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. It costs $25 per person and will include breakfast, lunch, and if all goes well, sled dog rides from the Otter River Sled Dog Training Center & Wilderness Adventures. Registration is limited to 30 participants.

CopperDog board member Lesley DuTemple, who’s organizing the conference, said the goal is to reach out to more people, building interest in the race and potentially attracting future volunteers.

“It’s targeted toward educators, and we’ll have groupings for different subjects, but it’s open to anybody if you’re into CopperDog and want to learn more,” she said.

Presenter Henrique A. “Kiko” de Melo e Silva is the head timer for the race, and it’s crucial his figures are accurate, with $25,000 in prize money on the line, DuTemple said.

It’s also somewhat complicated, with staggered start times, post-midnight finishes, and start orders rearranged on both the second and third days of the race so that teams are sent out of the gate in inverse order from their spot on the leader board, with the last-place team starting first and so on.

Kiko said he’ll be using a fairly involved spreadsheet to keep track of everything, one he hopes will eliminate some of the manual double- and triple-checking he and his team had to do last year to be sure of accurate results.

But that manual work could be perfect for students, he said. They could, for example, learn to convert hours, minutes and seconds into decimals for easier calculation, and back into clock time for display results. Possibly, he said, each child in a class could pick one musher, figure out the race results from daily times, and then compare with others to build a leader board.

CopperDog, he said, could inspire students’ interest in subjects they might have previously dismissed as boring.

“If kids are excited about the event they can then go back to class and say, ‘Wow, this is how it works,” he said.

CopperDog head veterinarian Dr. Jeff Ladd will also be presenting, along with Sox, a sled dog on loan for the day from …Sharks Came Racing kennel. Ladd said veterinarians have to use all sorts of science to keep dogs safe throughout the race.

“We have to be concerned with physiology at both the micro and macro level, we have to be concerned with dentition, and in regard to structure, with the anatomy,” he said.

Ladd said one ideal lesson for advanced students would be to examine how food is turned into energy in a sled dog’s muscles.

Other presenters will include CopperDog Marketing Director Todd Brassard and Executive Director Abbey Greene, on how CopperDog operates; Truman Obermeyer and Jerry Mitchell, on the creation of the race; DuTemple, on the history of working sled dogs and dog sled racing; musher Tom Bauer, on managing a kennel and the life of a musher; and Race Director Meredith LaBeau, on the geography of mapping out a dog sled race course on existing snowmobile trails.

CopperDog has other educational initiatives this year as well. One is the “Teacher on the Trail” blog, created by Lynn Witte, a Mt. Clemens elementary school teacher who will be racing in this year’s CopperDog 40 one-day race. There are also lesson plans and other educational materials created by the Iditarod dog sled race. These can all be found on the Learning tab on the CopperDog 150 web site, at

To register for the Educator’s Conference, email DuTemple at, preferably by Feb. 5. Please include your first and last name; mailing address; phone number; email address; school, grade and subjects taught if you’re a teacher; what you’d like to get out of the conference; and any questions. Then bring your $25 check made out to CopperDog, Inc. with you to the conference.