Something “just clicked” for Connor MacMahon when he first stepped foot on a dog sled. “From my first 10 feet on a sled, I’ve been obsessed with [dog sledding] ever since,” says MacMahon. The southern Ontario native moved up to Yellowknife five years and got into working with sled dogs under the mentorship of Aaron Peck, who runs Elevation Sled Dog Adventures.
It was Connor’s love for dogs that spurred his interest in the sport. In 2020, Connor dove head first into racing. He and his team competed in multiple races, including the 255-mile Yukon Journey in 2021 (his longest race to date). In March 2021, he and his team ran across the finish line in first place at the 45th Percy DeWolfe Memorial Mail Race.
This will be Connor’s first time competing in the 300-mile race event at the Yukon Quest. He’s raised his current team from pups, an experience he says that’s been both challenging and rewarding. He’s gradually building up their mileage in anticipation for the long-distance race. “I’m very much looking forward to seeing how they grow that confidence in themselves,” says Connor.
But it’s not just distance that Connor is training for. “It’s not just about the amount of miles you put in,” he explains. “It’s about getting the dogs comfortable for being out on the trail.” As part of their training, Connor camps with his team out on the trail, getting them used to the conditions away from the comfort of home. “It’s about getting our systems set up, so everything becomes second nature when you’re exhausted, cold, and not thinking straight.”
One of the biggest challenges in dog racing is staying mentally strong in the face of adversity, says Connor. During the Yukon Journey race in 2021, two of his dogs pulled shoulder muscles and he had to suddenly leave them behind at a checkpoint. “That was very hard. I was so sad — and the dogs could feel it. It’s really about keeping yourself mentally okay out there because if you get upset, your dogs can really it, too. They 100% feed on your emotion out there.”
Connor’s excited to hit the trails in the upcoming Yukon Quest. “Dog sledding is my favourite way to travel and see the landscape,” he says. “It’s the same experience as being on a beautiful lake on a canoe versus a fancy boat. It’s more work but also way more rewarding.”
(Content: Trina Moyles / Photo: Harry Kern)