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3rd Annual Lake Minnetonka Klondike Dog Derby brings a piece of the past to Excelsior

The best dog sled teams in North America are ready to compete in a 40-mile race with origins dating back nearly 90 years.

EXCELSIOR, Minnesota — This weekend's Lake Minnetonka Klondike Dog Derby is a relatively new event, with this being its third running. But, for Excelsior, the race is bringing back a piece of history. 

The dog sled race is a competition that attracts tens of thousands of people to Excelsior, the tiny tourist destination on the shores of Lake Minnetonka. "Water Street is packed. People are jazzed as the mushers make their way around the lake," said Bethany Hway, the co-founder and director of the Klondike Dog Derby.

The event is a 40-mile sled dog race with 35 teams competing for a $40,000 prize. "People are traveling from across Canada [and] the Midwest to be here," said Hway. "They're getting high fives all along the course, and to them, this is just a highlight of their mushing season." 

Hway, who grew up in the mushing community, dreamed of bringing the event to Excelsior about five years ago. "I just kind of got that old familiar itch. I was like, 'Man, I miss this sport. I miss this community,'" she reminisced. "As I started planning, one of the cool things that I discovered is that this idea of bringing a sled dog race to the lake was not new at all."

In the 1930s, Excelsior hosted "Klondike Day," a small winter carnival with a smaller dog derby on College Lake. Flash forward to the 1970s; the series of sled dog races in The Commons went around the big island. There were up to 80 mushers in those races. "I discovered this really rich history of racing here on the lake, and that kind of became the genesis of 'Hey, we're bringing a piece of history back to Lake Minnetonka,'" recalled Hway. 

Credit: Minnesota Historical Society
A newspaper clipping shows the first sled dog race held in Excelsior in 1973.

The 21st-century version of the sled dog race is a sight to behold. Thousands of volunteers have been working for hours to make Saturday's event a reality. "I never expected it to grow to the point that it has in such a short period of time," said Hway. "This event that we're putting on, which really is about, you know, embracing winter here in the northern region. If you live here, you gotta love it." 

There's more than just the race to check out. On Friday, the public is welcome to watch veterinarians give the dogs a pre-race checkup, take a ride around The Commons and even Hug a Husky.

Find more information about events and parking here

Watch the coverage live online starting at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday.

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