Dog sled race can’t run without hundreds of helpers

HOUGHTON – The CopperDog 150 sled dog race is just a short February away, and organizers are putting out the call for volunteers to help make the race a success. There’s a volunteer drive today in Calumet, and interested people can also sign up online any time at the CopperDog website.

“There is no race without the volunteers,” said race Volunteer Director Brian Donnelly. “There’s nothing more important in pulling this off.”

The volunteer drive, hosted by River Valley Bank and Aspirus Keweenaw, will be held at River Valley’s Calumet branch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Attendees will have the chance to learn more about the volunteer jobs available and how to sign up entire groups that wish to stick together, and will also be treated to hot cocoa, hot dogs and other treats, as well as the chance to meet some sled dogs.

Danny Stawicki, a Michigan Technological University student who volunteered at the race for the first time last year, recommends the experience.

“The whole event has such a friendly atmosphere around it,” he said. “You just get swept up in this wave of camaraderie and excitement about the race.”

Donnelly said the race is seeking volunteers for a variety of jobs, such as crossing guards to ensure dog teams cross roads safely, snow fence installers and removers, and timers and dog handlers for the start and finish lines of the race. People who’d prefer to help out indoors are also needed, for the CopperDog banquet, or to host mushers and teams from out of town.

In all, Donnelly said race organizers would like to sign up about 400 volunteers to work about 1,000 different assignments, which would match last year’s totals.

So far, he said, about 50 percent of the volunteers needed have signed up. He’d like the rest of the slots filled as soon as possible, or at the latest prior to volunteer training Feb. 22.

“Our volunteer army has never let us down before, but if you plan to come please let us know,” Donnelly said.

Most volunteer positions are filled on a first-come, first-serve basis. Some, like dog handling, tend to fill fast. Others, like putting up and taking down snow fences before and after the race, can be harder to fill, and Donnelly put out a special request for people to help with the fencing.

“It’s a lot of work but it can be made easy with a bunch of bodies,” he said.

The bulk of volunteers will serve at road crossings, directing teams to proper crossing points and making sure they don’t head into the road when there’s oncoming traffic.

“Crossings can need as many as 30 to 40 people at one crossing,” Donnelly said. “Part of it is to kind of form a human wall. Every time there’s open space the dogs want to run off into it. The best way to steer them in the right way is a lot of human bodies.”

He said that creates an ideal situation for groups that want to volunteer together, such as scouts, businesses or student groups.

Great Lakes Mutual Insurance Manager Jim Winquist heads up a team of employees, families and friends that’s made an annual tradition of manning the same U.S. 41 crossing on CopperDog Friday nights and Sunday mornings.

He said about 25 people come out each year, and the event has become something to look forward to – and to begin talking about – almost as soon as snow begins to fall each year. Along with contributing to the community, the event builds camaraderie around the office.

“We get to know each other as people and as friends,” he said. “When you’re working with friends, it’s a lot better.”

Donnelly said volunteers need to be at least 14 years old to officially fill assignments, though younger children can still come and help. He asked that people leave their dogs at home, however, as they can be disruptive to those running the race.

Most assignments last from two to four hours, and volunteers can sign up for just one day, or up to all three days of the event. For most assignments, a few hours of training on Feb. 22 will suffice; a few postings will require more.

To learn more or to volunteer online, go to and click on the volunteers tab. If you have questions or are having trouble signing up, email volunteer director Brian Donnelly at