Sled dog racer shares joy of riding
By Nick Longworth
Although parents may not be able to give their children the sleigh rides with Santa they desire this holiday season, they might be able to give them the next best thing.
A ‘Canadian transplant’ living in Minnesota the last 25 years, Osage resident Ed Streeper is a lifelong dogsled racer from Fort Nelson, British Columbia.
Streeper took to the sport of dogsledding in his teens, stringing together a long and prosperous professional career, spanning 40 years now.
Now looking to slow down from the pace of the professional racing circuit, he is offering people the chance to ride behind a real dogsled – owned and guided by him and pulled by his team of dogs.
But in order to fully understand Streeper’s deep connection to dogsledding, you have to go all the way back to his teenage years growing up near the Yukon Territory.
“I always liked animals from the time I was a kid. I grew up on a farm with horses and I competed in rodeos, so it was a natural progression into dog sledding. An old trapper passed away and willed me four of his dogs and that’s how I got my first four dogs, how I got my start,” said Streeper, owner and founder of Streeper Kennels.
“My dad then sat me down one day and said the mayor of the town had a team of Siberian Huskies that he had to sell. He asked me if I would be interested in being the one responsible to look after them. I agreed and it kind of went from there. I started racing when I was 14. Five years later we had 100 dogs and I haven’t looked back since.”
Streeper then dove headfirst into the professional world of dogsled racing. He began a long and prosperous career – one that would eventually rank him among the world’s best.
“I am a professional sled dog sprint racer, which means we race anything up to about 35 miles. We follow the racing circuit, sort of like cowboys bouncing from race to race as the season goes on. I have raced at more places in North America than anybody in history by far. I have raced in over 100 different communities all over Canada, Alaska and the rest of North America. 1985 was my big breakout year,” Streeper said.
“In 1985 I won the 25th running of the Canadian championships. A month later, I was the first Canadian ever to win the world championship in Anchorage; it was the 50th anniversary of the race. Three weeks later I went to Fairbanks and was the second Canadian in history to win the North American championships,” Streeper said.
“It’s been real fun. I am almost done with a 40-year racing career, although I am going on the circuit again this year. I’m really looking forward to giving rides once I retire from the racing circuit. I really want to showcase rides for the kids of course, but I also know there are a lot of older folks who want to experience a sled dog ride too.”
Although Streeper knows the sport is a young-man’s game, his passion for the sport and his dogs refuse to be doused.
Now, he hopes to spread some of the joy that he has found in his dog-pulled sleds to the others around him.
“I want to spread my love of this sport and start offering sled dog rides to the public. A lot of people know about sled dog racing; they’ve heard of the Iditarod or they’ve seen the show Yukon Men and other shows. I am really looking forward to not as much traveling, staying home and giving rides to the public – from little kids to elderly folk; it doesn’t matter,” Streeper said.
“Right now we offer a three-and-a-half mile ride for people to come and feel the thrill of the dogs pulling them around. We have two different kinds of sleds: a toboggan style sled that can pull four adults or five or six kids at once and a couple stand-up style sleds we can also offer to people who really start getting into it.”
“First we will have them sit in the toboggan, but the second ride if they want to come back, we can let them stand on the sled by themselves. It’s open to anybody; you don’t need to have lots of balance because the toboggan is a sit-down sled.”
This will be the first year Streeper is offering rides to the public.
He believes the culmination of snow and the “old time” feeling of the dogsleds merges together as the perfect winter activity for participants.
“The rides right now are about twenty minutes or so. The trail we run right now goes out into Smokey Hills and back. We also have Shell Lake near. The weather will typically determine the course offered that day. If it’s cold and windy, we’re not going to be out on the lake, but we’ll go into the woods. I am really lucky that I have alternative routes,” Streeper said.
“All ages can participate, although it’s probably best to start around four-year-olds and up. With a three-year-old, unless it’s a warm day, they might get cold kind of fast. Those are just my thoughts, though; a lot of it is up to the parents. If they have a confident young kid who really wants to go, we can talk about it,” Streeper said.
He is doing a grand opening Christmas special over the holidays. Discounts could apply for those looking to take larger groups out for a ride.
Streeper expressed many times how he sees an enormous value in the rides he offers.
“It’s a great family-fun activity. You don’t have to be in real good shape or young and spry at all. We go over instructions for first-timers before we take off on what to do should someone accidentally slip off. It’s not overly fast-paced and injuries are very, very rare. It’s a fun thing for all ages and really just awesome,” Streeper said.
“(What I find appealing) about the sport is the animals and the love of the dogs. Before the dogs are ready to run, they are so excited; they’re barking and yelling and all full of excitement. But the second you say ‘go!’ it’s instant silence; it’s a really fun thing. Being out in nature with something that isn’t gasoline powered – no noisy motor – just skimming along almost like skiing, the fresh air, the scenery; it’s just a lot of really healthy, wonderful things. I really encourage people to consider it and I really hope they can. If people are outdoorsy and they like animals, a sled dog ride is a natural thing that they will really have fun I am sure,” Streeper said.
Looking toward future seasons, Streeper sees the sky as the limit for what he and the dogs can offer.
“In the next few years I plan to expand more and really branch the business. I want to hire a few guys who will work for me full time and we want to be able to have dog sled rides throughout the whole region; all over the place. I plan on branching out to different trails. We want to be able to offer ice fishing by dog team also. I want to be able to come to all the surrounding towns – Park Rapids, Detroit Lakes, Perham and Frazee; set up on the little lakes nearby and offer rides,” Streeper said.
“I would also like to progress to longer rides in the future. I want to be able to do rides from the three mile run we offer now, up to 25 a mile run. I’m really hoping to build up a repeat customer clientele. If any customer comes here and shows that they really want to learn the game and go for rides, we’ll progress them right through the training stages to where they will eventually be able to take a four dog team and captain the ship by themselves.”
“Once they try it once, like any ride, I know they are going to want to come back and go for an even longer one next time,” Streeper said.
Fearing an animal rights backlash more than any cold, Streeper is quick to point out the attentive care given to each and every dog he owns – totaling around 90 now.
“We feed and house the dogs real well. The dogs have to eat real well and they have to be on clean, dry bedding. We clean up after them daily. The dogs love it; they are born to run. We really encourage people to come and check it out; I think they’ll really enjoy seeing the dogs,” Streeper said.
“(In regards to animal cruelty) I invite people to see what we feed the dogs and see how well they are looked after. I can turn 40 dogs loose in the front yard right now and none of them are going to run anywhere; they’re happy dogs,” Streeper said, “we promote their happiness and a good diet (with help from our veterinarian). If anyone has concerns about the dogs and wants to call me, they are more than welcome. I invite people to come out and see what these dogs do when we hook them up; if they think these dogs don’t love what they’re doing, we can absolutely talk about it,” Streeper said.
About to begin a new adventure, Streeper is visibly excited about his new career ahead.
“I plan to do this for a good long while. I would like to think I could do at least 10 years of giving people rides, maybe more depending on my own health,” he said. “I want to give people a wide variety options that we offer so they have reason to come back.”
Appointments are required. Options may be spottier this season compared to next due to Streeper’s racing schedule.
“This year with me racing, people will have to check in to find out if I am around or not for sure,” Streeper said, “but we plan to offer rides as long as we can and until there isn’t snow on the ground anymore.”
To book a ride, people are encouraged to contact Streeper Kennels by calling 573-3993 or emailing Streeper@eot.com.