UVM Alum Enters 1,000 Mile Sled-Dog Race

Peter Butteri, who graduated from the University of Vermont in 1983, is taking on one of the toughest sled-dog races in the world: the Yukon Quest. The Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race began in Fairbanks, Alaska on Feb. 9 at 11 a.m. The 1,000 mile race runs through some of the most stunning landscapes in North America and happens to be during the coldest month of the year. Butteri, 40, works as a forestry technician and currently lives in Tok, Alaska. When he graduated from UVM, he headed to Alaska with several friends looking for jobs at a summer fishery. Instead, he got involved with dogs as a dog handler in Tok and never looked back. In 1989, he started his own team of dogs and began races in the Yukon. This year will mark his ninth year as a musher in the Yukon Quest. “We keep about forty dogs,” said Butteri. “They’re not pets; they’re working dogs. My wife, son and I train the dogs. We spend a lot of time and money on them, so in many respects, they are as close as pets.” The relationship between a driver and his team is a crucial element in sled-dog racing. The lead dog of the team responds to voice commands to turn, stop and start. Some key commands used by a driver are “gee” for a right turn and “haw” for a left. Butteri explained the importance of knowing which way to turn. “One year I had a young leader named Blacky and he didn’t understand how to run over glare ice,” he said. “Once he got the hang of it, we were coming up to a spot in the river that is the most dangerous part of the trail.”Blacky got really into it and I couldn’t steer him off the ice. We were on the wrong side of this island.” Butteri described what happened next. “I could hear the river roaring underneath, and I couldn’t stop the team. I could see the ice was fractioning underneath.” At that moment, Butteri went through the ice with his entire team and sled. Fortunately, the driver and his team only dropped through two feet of shell ice and were not injured. “We all got wet, but we didn’t go swimming.” That part of the trail, where the Nation river meets the Yukon, is perhaps the most treacherous of the entire race, at least for Butteri. “Once I get past that spot, I’m comfortable.” This year, Butteri is looking forward to some tough competition and a good performance. “Our best was when we placed third in ’99. This year, we have a much better team than we’ve ever had before. We are looking forward to a good race.”