Qrill’s Iditarod

With snow falling and the weather warming along the Bering Sea Coast, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race slogged past the COVID-19 worried village of Shaktoolik on Sunday night hours off the record pace for the event’s northern route with a Norwegian in the lead.

In an effort to protect against the spread of disease, residents of the community moved the checkpoint a couple miles out of town to a cabin near the Old Shaktoolik townsite where they turned out to welcome the first Iditarod musher.

In the race lead was 46-year-old, English-born, Norwegian raised Thomas Waerner, a former sprint dog driver in both Europe and Alaska, and the 2015 Iditarod rookie of the year. He is now running in what is only his second Iditarod.

An electrical contractor by trade married to a veterinarian, Waerner is backed by AkerBioMarine, a major Norwegian fishing company that mines the waters off Antarctica to supply krill-based food additives to Norway’s salmon farms.

Along with being rich in Omega-3 fat acids, the tiny, shrimp-like krill contain a chemical vital to giving the flesh of farmed salmon the healthy red color favored by consumers.

“Added to feed, Aker BioMarine’s QRILL Aqua beneficially influences fat content and distribution, and improves muscle quality, resulting in firmer, thicker fillets,” the company’s website says. “The krill’s astaxanthin content naturally enhances the red pigmentation of the fish flesh.”

Bigger business

Already highly successful in the fish-food market, Aker is trying to expand into a global pet-food market valued at somewhere around $90 billion per year. 

As part of that effort, it has embraced the Iditaord as a major sponsor and backed The QRILL Pet Mushing Team of which Waerner; 2018 Iditarod champion Joar Leifseth Ulsom, 33; and four-time Iditarod champ Dallas Seavey, 32, are all members. 

Ulsom, a Norwegian who now lives in Willow, was running ninth in the race Sunday night. Seavey, who lives just up the George Parks Highway from Ulsom in Talkeetna, was commentating on the race for Iditarod and the Qrill Pet Arctic World Series.

QPAWS, as it is being branded, is trying to blend the Iditarod, Minnesota’s John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon, Norway’s Femund Race and Russia’s Volga Quest into something of a sled-dog version of the NASCAR Cup Series.

Aker Biomarine’s promotional material indicates it is trying to leverage Iditarod success into pet-food sales.

“QRILL Pet is Aker BioMarine’s own pet food brand, delivering highly nutritional solutions based on sustainable harvest of krill from the ocean. A unique and natural source of marine proteins, omega-3’s and more , with documented health and performing benefits for all types of dogs. If you want your dog to take advantage of this unique functional ingredient look for dog food brands with the ‘Powered by QRILL Pet’ logo on the package or product website,” the QPAWS website says.

With two Iditarod champions on the QRILL Team, the company would become a dominant Iditarod force by adding a third.

Alaskan chasing

When Waerner pulled into the relocated Shaktoolik checkpoint, his closest competition was Brent Sass from Eureka in Central Alaska. Sass famously flamed out in his last Iditarod in 2016.

Hoping to catch then race leader Dallas Seavey and his father Mitch, Sass cut his teams’ rest along the coast. It worked to move him within less than two hours of the lead at the penultimate checkpoint of White Mountain, where all the teams are required to take a mandatory, eight-hour rest.

When he got the dogs up to go after that long stop 80 miles from the finish line, however, the team balked. By the time they’d recovered to the point where they were ready to undertake the final leg of the race, Sass had 19 teams instead of two in front of him.

The younger of the Seavey’s, meanwhile, went on to set a record time of 8 days, 11 hours and 20 minutes for the Iditarod’s northern route that year.

Waerner was a good 10 hours off that pace when he arrived in Shaktoolik, but he appeared to have built a comfortable lead. And back in Unalakleet, Aaron Burmeister from Nenana – a five-time, top-10 Iditarod finisher running his 19th race this year – might have had the most telling observation on the last leg of the race along the coast.

Most of the Alaska mushers chasing Waerner have spent the winter training their dogs in temperatures of 20- to 40-degrees below zero, he said, which gives the Norwegian musher who has trained in much warmer weather a significant advantage in the warm weather now settling over the coast.

Dogs environmentally acclimate by thermoregulating their bodies to deal with the world around them. When they have set their internal thermostats so as to stay warm at 40 degrees below zero, it can take them days to adjust to temperatures 60 degrees warmer or more.

The temperature along the coast on Sunday night was creeping above 30, and the dogs were pushing on through new snow, which requires somewhat more energy than a hardpacked trail.

The harder dogs work the more body heat they generate. They are just like people in that regard. And as a more than 20 year old sled dog website notes, “when muscles get too warm, they function less efficiently.”

As a result, runners – be they canine, human or equine – then slow down.

With Waerner now in the Iditarod lead, and with weather conditions shifting in his favor along the coast, the race would now appear his to lose.




8 replies »

  1. There should cameras on each sled, on the mushers. A promising sponsor like Qrill should be able to get lots of footage (dozens in not 100s of hours) to surf through, pick out nice clips to put together in their advertising.

    It’s a shame, that the Iditarod moves through so much great country, and pretty-much nobody sees it except the racers.

    This is not just an Iditarod problem. All long-distance off-road events are starved for realistic coverage. You gots yer Ceremonial Starts, a scatter of Check Points that document teams *not racing*, and you gots yer Finish Line.

    That’s really some kinda pathetically slim pickings.

  2. Looks like the Iditarod just lost another big sponsor as Chrysler has finally decided to pull out after Alaska Airlines dropped support for the race earlier this year…
    “Thanks to a massive PETA campaign, Anchorage Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram Center—an independently owned FCA dealership that has sponsored the Iditarod since 2007—has decided to drop its support of the race after this year’s event.”

    • “Thanks to a massive PETA campaign”? PETA also claimed credit when Alaska Airlines dropped their sponsorship.

      Alaska Airlines spokesman Tim Thompson said in an email that “PETA did not play a role in our decision.”

      PETA’s staged ‘demonstrations’ attract remarkably little attention, from real people (media-cameras, sure). Passersby act like the stunt isn’t even there.

      And who would? PETA’s bizarre kill-them-all policy has almost single-handedly created the modern “No Kill” shelter juggernaut.

      Sponsorships come & go … ‘It’s the economy, yeah-huh’, for one … bigger corporations can do better with their giving, by using it to create free-standing organizations that do something good, often aimed at helping youth. Chrysler started with Iditarod in 2007 (after being in Anchorage since 1963) … which means they kinda got the fickle finger of fate here.

      PETA has chosen a pretty weird hill to die on … that it’s better to kill dogs & cats, in their view, than for them to become someone’s beloved pet… and other stuntsters like Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd have also been struggling lately. Maybe they overestimated how many suckers there are in every crowd?

      • Ted,
        I also read the 2007 date, but Seattle Times is reporting that Chrysler has been a race partner for 3 decades…
        “The dealership for 30 years has been one of the Iditarod’s principal partners and annually presents the race winner with a new pickup at the finish line in Nome.”
        Maybe the dealership took on new ownership in 2007, but has been connected for 30 years?
        Either way, loosing the big truck at the end of the race and other trucks for the raffle is a big blow to the ITC.
        I am guessing those 250,000 emails from PETA supporters definitely had an influence in the change.

    • Rod Udd passing away is the deciding factor. He loved the Iditarod and could care less what the assorted fruits and nuts that constitute the die-hard zealotry behind PETA think. Now Anchorage Chrysler is controlled by people without the attachment to the race, so they’re just cutting back. Especially with Covid 19 severely impacting their businesses.

      As an aside, it’s pretty telling that while coronavirus is ravaging the global economy and potentially devastating whole populations like we’re seeing in Italy you and PETA are content to dance on the Iditarod’s grave. The irony being is that the Iditarod and mushers will continue without Chrysler just fine, and you guys have nothing to celebrate at all.

  3. Another Alaska connection – Aker BioMarine is part of Aker Group, controlled ~66% Kjell Inge Røkke, who build American Seafoods which he was forced to divest as a result of US ownership requirements of the 1998 American Fisheries Act.

    • Yep,
      And don’t forget about Kjell’s stint in prison for corruption…
      “Røkke was convicted of corruption in 2005 and has served time in prison.
      After his 2005 conviction for corruption involving the illegal purchase of a boat license, Røkke served 24–25 days of a 120-day sentence in Hof Prison, and was subsequently released on parole.”
      Then we have the “scale case” against American Seafood company of which Rokke was owner at the time of lawsuit…
      “Something is fishy when the scales on a factory trawler read from 6 percent to nearly 70 percent less than what the catch really weighs…
      For such discrepancies, allegedly extending over many years, the federal government seeks penalties of more than $2.7 million from Seattle-based American Seafoods, which operates factory trawlers that catch and process pollock off Alaska.”

      • Not saying Kjell never did that – he has a reputation for being ruthless – but he was out of American in 1998 or 1999.

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